Sheet Music 101: Notes

Sheet music is very easy and simple to read. You just have to know the tricks. In this series I will teach you the basics of sheet music. This series can be best followed with a piano. You should know the names of the notes and where they are located on the piano in order to do this series.

The most important part in sheet music is obviously the notes. They tell us what to play, and when to play them. Notes are represented on a staff. You have probably seen one. A staff is simply a bunch of lines to mark things on. The staff itself does not tell us what notes to play. We add clefs to let us know where a certain note on the staff is and, consequently, where all the others are.

The two clefs that you will most commonly find in sheet music are the treble and  the bass clef which are pictured at right. The top clef, logically enough, is the treble clef, the bottom is the bass clef. Each clef points to a certain line on the staff. You can  see this also in the picture to the right. The two dots in the bass clef show one line, the encircled lines in the treble clef show another. These two lines are where you will find G above Middle C (for the treble clef) and F below middle C (for the bass clef). From there it is simple, for every line or space you go down or up, you go down or up a note. So, for example the note in the space bellow the G line would be an F, a note on the line bellow would be an E, and so on.

This is all very well and good, but another important thing to know is how long the notes need to be held. This is indicated by the type of note that appears on the staff. There are four basic types of notes. An eight note, a quarter note, a half not and a whole note. You can see them below.


I will go into more detail about rhythm in a later article, but a simple way of look at it is this. If a quarter note is worth one second, a half note will be worth two seconds, and a whole note will be worth four seconds. A eighth note on the other hand will be worth only 1/2 of a second. You can continue down. A 16th note will be worth 1/2 the time of an 8th note, or approximately 1/4 of a second, etc. You can tell a 16th note from an 8th note because it will have an extra flag.  You can see this to the right.

8th notes (and 16th notes etc.) are frequently beamed together to form a group. When this is the case, you can look at the number of beams to tell you how long the note is. This is shown to the left and bellow.


I hope this helps you understand some of the basics of how notes work in sheet music. Starting now, you should be able to play some rudimentary songs! On Sunday I will talk about rests and rhythm.

This is part 1 of my series on how to read music. You can read Part Two: Rhythm and Rests here, Part 3: Not Modifiers here, and Part 4: Other Things of Importance here.