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A Guide To Reading Sheet Music

Jan 10, 2008
To read basic sheet music is not difficult once you have mastered the odd and peculiar looking notes and symbols and understand exactly what they mean.

Did you notice that the notes are written on a set of five horizontal lines? This is known as a staff. The vertical lines placed at intervals on the staff are used to divide the music into measures. Each measure contains a number of notes and the name of the note is determined by the horizontal line it is placed on or between. So, let's start at the bottom line and work upwards on each line. On the treble clef these notes are E, G, B, D, F., easily remembered by the little rhyme, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor. The notes located in the spaces between the lines are F, A, C, E which no doubt you have spotted, spells the word face.

On the left hand side at the beginning of the music there is a clef sign, either a treble clef where the notes are usually higher in tone or bass clef where the notes are lower. The clef dictates which octave the notes are to be played in. Alongside the clef you fill find two numbers written as a fraction and this is the time signature of the music and how many beats should be played to the measure.

The sharps or flats of the key the music is played in are shown in the key signature which is also near to the clef or sometimes, if it is just an odd note here or there to be played sharp or flat the symbol will be alongside the note itself. A b sign means a flat while a # symbol means a sharp and both of these are written against the notes required to be changed.

The notes are best described as such -
* A hollow oval called a semibreve. This is a whole note lasting for four beats or a measure.
* A hollow oval with a stem is called a minim. This note takes two beats.
* A solid oval with a stem is called a crotchet and lasts for one beat.
* A black oval with a stem and flag is known as a quaver and last for half a beat.
* A black oval with a stem and two flags is called a semi-quaver and takes just a quarter of a beat.
A note followed by a dot increases the value of the beat for that note.

Each of the above mentioned notes have a matching rest.
* The semibreve rest looks is a small black oblong sitting on top of a line.
* The minim rest is identical but sits under the line.
* The crochet rest looks is the sign of a curly vertical line.
* The quaver rest looks like a vertically slanted line with a black circle on the top left with a loop.
* The semi-quaver rest is similar to the quaver rest but with two black circles attached.

Crochets, quavers and semi-quavers are frequently attached to each other by one or two lines going across the stems. The stems of the notes can point upwards or downwards depending on whether they are above or below the center line on the staff. If the notes are joined by a curved line then only the first note is picked out but the count of the other notes is included.

These are just some guidelines for the beginner but there are many opportunities available on the Internet and in books showing numerous diagrams on how to read sheet music whatever your chosen instrument.
About the Author
Kevin Sinclair is the publisher and editor of MusicianHome.com, a site that provides information and articles for musicians at all stages of their development.
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