How to Read Music
It's certainly possible to play music without being able to read it, just as it's possible to be able to speak without being able to read or write. In both cases, the person who cannot read or write is missing out on an opportunity to comprehend and communicate better. Learning to read sheet music can improve your grasp of music theory, enable you to play music you've never heard before, and allow you to more easily relate your musical ideas to others. The skill can take a while to master, but the basics are laid out for you here. == Steps ==..... Study the staff. There are five lines and four spaces, each of which represents a single note. The space above or below any given line corresponds to the note above or below it on the scale. Identify the clef. The first symbol written on a staff (the five lines on which the notes are written) is the clef, and it tells you which lines and spaces on the staff correspond with which notes. The two most common clefs are the treble clef and the bass clef. Treble or G clef with G noteTreble clef: The treble clef, also known as the G-clef because it circles the line for the G note) is used in writing music for most musical voices (soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, and tenor), most woodwind instruments, stringed instruments (violin, guitar) and high brass instruments such as the trumpet. It also typically corresponds to the notes played with the right hand on the piano. The notes played on the lines of the treble clef staff are, from bottom to top, E, G, B, D, F. The order of these notes can be remembered with the use of mnemonic phrases such as Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. The spaces between the lines, from bottom to top, correspond to the notes F, A, C, E, a sequence which, obviously, spells "FACE." Bass clef or F-clef with F noteBass clef: The bass clef, also known as the F-clef because it defines the line for the F note between two dots, is used for lower-pitched instruments such as the bassoon, the bass, and low brass instruments such as the trombone and tuba. The piano part played by the left hand is also usually written with a bass clef. The notes played on the lines of the bass clef staff are, from bottom to top, G, B, D, F, A. This order can be remembered with the aid of phrases such as Good Burritos Don't Fall Apart. The spaces between the lines, from bottom to top, correspond to the notes A, C, E, G. The mnemonic device All Cows Eat Grass may help you remember the order of these notes. Determine the key signature. Directly to the right of the clef there may be one or more flat or sharp symbols before the notes begin. This group of symbols is called the key signature. If there are no so such symbols, then the key signature is "natural" (neither sharp nor flat). Key signature in A-flat-major and f-minorA flat symbol on a line or a space tells you that all notes on that line or space should be played flat (one semitone lower than they would otherwise be played.) Thus a flat symbol on the line of the staff that corresponds to "B" would indicate that all "B" notes in the piece should be played as "B-flats," which are halfway between "A" and "B". The symbols that look like lowercase letter "b"s are flats. Key signature in B-major and g-sharp-minorA sharp symbol tells you that all notes on that line or space should be played a semitone higher than they would otherwise be played. The symbols that look like number or pound symbols are sharps. The key signatures progress in what is called the "circle of fifths"; that is, each key is a musical interval of one fifth from its neighboring key. In key signatures containing flats, the name of the key is the flat to the left of the last flat. A key signature with four flats, B, E, A, D, for example, is the key of A flat. The exception to this rule is the key of F, which has only one flat. In keys containing sharps, the name of the key is one step above the last sharp; for example, if there are three sharps, F, C, and G, the name of the key, one step above G, is "A". Notes can also be designated flats or sharps by flat or sharp symbols placed right before them within the piece of music. In this case, only the corresponding notes in that measure (see next step) are modified. Natural signs cancel a flat or a sharpIf the key signature tells you that all "B" notes, for example, should be played as "B-flats," a natural sign can be used before a single "B" note to indicate that that particular note and other "B" notes in that measure should be played as "B," not as "B-flat." Time signature highlighted in blueObserve the time signature. To the right of the key signature, if a key signature is present, will be the time signature (also known as the meter signature). The time signature typically consists of two numbers, and it looks like a fraction. It may stay constant throughout a piece of music, or it may change from time to time throughout a piece. A bar line or measure lineThe top number determines how many beats are in a measure or bar (a measure is defined by vertical lines, or bar lines, that run perpendicular to the staff). For instance, if the time signature is 3/4, there are three beats in a measure. The bottom number in the time signature determines what kind of note gets one beat. This number is most commonly 4, which means that a quarter note (see next step) gets one beat. It may also be 2, which means that a half note gets one beat. 4/4 time is so common that it is sometimes designated with the letter "C" ("common") in the time signature instead of with a fraction. Likewise, 2/2 time is sometimes designated by the letter "C" with a line running down through it. More complex time signatures may have an 8 or some other number on the bottom, but these are beyond the scope of this article. Play the notes and rests in relation to the time signature. Now that you know which lines and spaces correspond to which notes (thanks to the clef), you can read the piece from left to right. The symbols will either represent notes or rests. Rests indicate silence, so they do not designate any pitch; they are typically always placed in the same position on the staff. A variety of symbols are used to indicate the duration of a note or rest relative to other notes or rests.Notes:Rests: A whole note or semibreve appears as a circle on the staff in a measure and generally is worth as many beats as the measure contains. Thus when there are 4 beats per measure (as in 4/4 time) the whole note is worth 4 beats, while in 3/4 time, which has 3 beats per measure, the whole note is worth 3 beats. You will notice when you read the sheet music that generally if there is a whole note in a measure, there aren't any other notes, because the whole note takes up all of the beats available in that measure. An exception may occur in irregular time signatures, such as 5/4, where a whole note may designate five beats unless it is accompanied by another note or notes--typically a quarter note--in the same measure, in which case it would be worth 4 beats. Whole rests look like dark rectangles hanging down off the second line from the top of the staff and are worth the same duration as whole notes. You can remember that whole rests come DOWN from the line because it's like a hole was dug. Half notes or minim are worth 1/2 the duration of whole notes. They appear as an empty circle with a straight line dropping down off the left side or going up off the right side. In 4/4 time, a half-note receives two beats. Half rests look like dark rectangles sitting on top of the third line from the top of the staff and are worth the same duration as half notes. These can be differentiated from whole rests because the half rest looks like a top hat--hat and half sound similar. Quarter notes or crotchet are worth 1/4 the duration of whole notes. They look like solid circles with a straight line coming off of them (as in the half notes). In 4/4 time, quarter notes are worth 1 beat. Quarter rests are designated by a unique symbol that looks something like a bird flying sideways. They are worth the same amount of time as quarter notes. Sometimes they are represented by a symbol that is the mirror image of an eighth rest, shown later. Eighth notes or quaver are worth 1/8 the duration of whole notes. In 4/4 time, they are worth half a beat, so two eighth notes equal 1 beat, the equivalent of a quarter note. A single eighth note looks like the quarter note, but has a single "tail" that drops straight down or straight up and then curves back up or down toward the solid circle. Two or more eighth notes together are connected by a single bar at the bottom or top, instead of having "tails." Eighth rests look a little like a leaning stick figure person cut in half vertically and holding his head in his outstretched hand. Or like a stylized number 7 with some kind of growth--hopefully it's benign--on its top left end. They are worth the same duration as an eighth note. The one in this picture is actually a sixteenth rest, therefore having two bars on the top. Sixteenth notes or semiquaver are worth 1/16 the duration of whole notes.In 4/4 time, they are worth a quarter of a beat (four of them together make a single beat). A single sixteenth note looks like the eight note, but with two "tails" instead of one. When they're connected, it's with two bars, not one. A dot next to the note or rest means that it should be lengthened half of the note's duration. A dot next to a whole note means that the note should be played for the duration of a note and a half (depending on the time signature; if the whole note is four beats, then a whole note with a dot next to it is held for six beats). A dot next to a half note means that the note should be held for the duration of 3/4 of a note. There are notes and rests of shorter durations than eighth notes and eighth rests, and these are designated by other symbols. Rests longer than whole rests may also be designated by a bar running through more than one measure with a number on top. The number indicates the number of measures of silence and does not necessarily correspond to the number of measures through which the symbol actually runs. Pay attention to how the notes are played together or in succession. D-minor triadFrequently you will see two or more notes "stacked" on top of each other on the staff. This is a chord, and indicates that all the notes should be played at the same time. Chords may only be played on polyphonic instruments (instruments on which you can play two or more notes independently or as a chord) such as the piano and guitar. If there is an arc connecting one note's circle to another note's circle, this is a tie, a slur, or a phrase mark. A tie occurs between two notes of the same pitch, and means that the notes are connected and should be held out for the total duration of the tied notes. A slur occurs between two (usually) different notes, and means that the notes should be voiced or articulated as little as possible. A Phrase mark generally is used over a series of notes, and means that you should play them continuously without a break in the musical thought. This is can also be referred to as legato. If you see notes with dots over or under them (not next to them) play or sing them in a shortened fashion, leaving some silence between the notes so that they are detached from one another. This is referred to as staccato.