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.
1. 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.
2. 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 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 or Every Good Boy Does Fine. 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: 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 or Good Boys Do Fine Always. 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.