How can I Read Music Notes?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2019
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Learning to read music notes is surprisingly simple at its most basic level, although it can take some time to become proficient in it. Many people can learn to read music notes at a slow speed within a day or two of study, but it can take weeks or months to learn to sight read at a speed sufficient for playing all but the slowest songs.

The first step to learning to read music notes is to learn your way around the musical staff present in sheet music. Most commonly, this consists of five parallel lines. Notes are placed on this staff, indicating what note they actually are. The shape of the note and the proximity of the note to other notes gives clues for how the notes should be played.

Before you learn to read music notes you need to identify how you’ll be reading them. You do that by looking for the clef symbol at the left of the staff. The most common clef is the treble clef, which is what music for stringed instruments, most woodwinds, higher-pitched brass instruments, the right hand of most piano pieces, and the vocal ranges from tenor to soprano, are written in. The treble clef is also sometimes referred to as the G clef, because the lower loop of the clef circles the second line of the staff, which is the line the G note rests on.


To read music notes on the treble clef, you can use a mnemonic device to remember what lines represent what notes. Reading from the bottom up, the lines are E, G, B, D, and F. This can be remembered by the mnemonic Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. The spaces between the lines, again from the bottom up, are F, A, C, and E, simply spelling the word face. So the full treble clef, from the bottom line to the top line, is: E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F.

The other common clef used when learning to read music notes is the bass clef. This is the clef used for the left hand of most piano pieces, the bassoon, the bass, and the deeper-pitched brass instruments, as well as the low end of the vocal scale. The bass clef is also sometimes known as the F clef, because it loops around to rest on the fourth line from the bottom, which is its F note.

To read music notes on the bass clef, you can use a mnemonic device to remember what lines represent what notes, albeit not as easy a device as that for the treble clef. Reading from the bottom up, the lines are G, B, D, F, A. This can be remembered by the mnemonic Good Boys Do Fine Always. The spaces between the lines, again from the bottom up, are A, C, E, and G. This can be remembered with the mnemonic All Cows Eat Grass.

With those two clefs understood, you can begin to learn to read music notes. There are any number of small notations that help you know what key the music is in, what tempo it should be played at, and strange incidentals that come along, but these can all be learned later. To begin to read music notes all that’s important is getting to a point where just by looking at a note you know what note it is, rather than having to fall back on counting out the lines or spaces. This just takes time and patience, but once it happens, it will seem as easy as reading a sentence written in English.


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Post 4

After a few years playing trumpet in the high school band, I got pretty good at reading music notes on the treble clef, but I still have trouble reading anything on the bass clef. I never had to use it when I played the trumpet. I also have trouble reading notes on ledger lines, especially the really high ones.

I can handle reading flats and sharps, but sometimes I forget which key I'm playing in and I will read the wrong note. That's pretty embarrassing on a trumpet, because any note I play is going to be heard by the entire audience.

Post 3

Learning to read music notes is probably just as hard as learning how to play them on an instrument, but it does get much easier within a few months of practice. I've been a musician for nearly 40 years, and now I read music like other people might read foreign languages. I can hear the music in my head, but I couldn't do that when I was a 5 year old kid taking piano lessons.

When people ask me how I can read and play all of those notes in the church hymnal, I tell them it becomes second nature after a while, like reading words instead of individual letters. A lot of things on the page give me important information about the song's key or tempo or style, but the notes themselves are what I'm actually reading as I play.

Post 2

There is also such thing as shape note singing, also called sacred harp. In this style, learning how to read music notes is different because the notes have different shapes as well as being spaced differently. In some ways this can make it easier, though it could also be seen as more difficult.

Post 1

There are many books available for teaching yourself to read musical notes, as well as different websites and computer programs you can utilize as well. It can also be a good idea to start by reading music notes to songs you know well, in order to better grasp the differences in pitches.

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