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Introduction to Reading Music

Written music is a language that has been developing for thousands of years, and even the music we read today has been around for over 300 years. Music notation is the representation of sound with symbols, from basic notations for pitch, duration, and timing, to more advanced descriptions of expression, timbre, and even special effects. This article will introduce you to the basics of reading music, show you some more advanced methods, and suggest some ways to gain more knowledge about the subject.

The Basics

The music staff

Get a real handle on the staff. Before you are able get down to learning music, you have to get a grip of the basic information that virtually everyone who reads music needs to know: the staff is the most basic of all musical symbols, and the foundation for everything that is to follow.

The staff is an arrangement of five parallel lines, and the spaces between them. Both lines and spaces are numbered for reference purposes, and are always counted from lowest to highest.

The Treble Clef

Start with the Treble Clef. One of the first things you'll encounter when reading music is the clef. This sign is the legend that tells you approximately what range your instrument will play in. All instruments and voices in the higher ranges use the treble clef as their basis, and for this intro to reading music, we'll focus primarily on this clef for our examples.

The Treble Clef, or G Clef, is derived from an ornamental Latin letter G. When notes are added to the staff in the treble clef, they will have the following values:

The five lines, from the bottom up, represent the following notes: E G B D F.
The four spaces, from the bottom up, represent these notes: F A C E.

It may seem like a lot to remember, but if you use mnemonics - or word cues - that may help you remember them. For the lines, Every Good Boy Does Fine is the standard, and for the spaces, well, they spell out "FACE." Practicing with an online note recognition tool is another great way to reinforce these associations.

The Bass Clef

Understand the Bass Clef. The bass clef, also known as the F clef, is used for instruments in the lower registers, including the left hand of the piano, bass guitar, trombone, etc.

The name "F clef" derives from its origins as the Gothic letter F, and the two dots above and below the "F" line on the staff. The staff of the bass clef represents different notes than that of the treble clef.

The five lines, bottom to top, represent these notes: G B D F A (Good Boys Don't Fool Around).
The four spaces, bottom to top, represent these notes: A C E G (All Cows Eat Grass).

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