how to read music crash course

How to Read Music – Part 4 of 4: Naming Notes

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The Staff

Notes are written on a set of five horizontal lines known as ‘the staff’ (or ‘the stave’):

How to Read Music (in 30 Days) - Day 19: Notating Pitch on the Staff

Musical notes will be written out through the 5 lines:

How to Read Music (in 30 Days) - Day 19: Notating Pitch on the Staff

As well as in the 4 spaces between the lines:

How to Read Music (in 30 Days) - Day 19: Notating Pitch on the Staff

Obviously, notes that sound higher are placed higher on the staff and notes that sound lower are placed lower. Notes that are sounded together are written on top of each other on one staff:

How to Read Music (in 30 Days) - Day 19: Notating Pitch on the Staff

 

The Treble and the Bass Clefs

The human ear can hear a very wide range of sound – from the very low notes to the very high notes. The standard piano alone has 88 keys available! How can so many notes fit in a system of just 5 lines and 4 spaces?

The answer is in what is known as Clefs. These are symbols that indicate exactly which specific range of notes will be represented on the staff. There have been various different clefs throughout history but the most commonly used today are two: the bass clef for low notes and the treble clef for higher notes.

The treble clef is this symbol shown here:

How to Read Music (in 30 days) - day 21: the Treble Clef

And with it in place (at the very beginning of the staff), the notes on the lines become named so. Observe how the notes move up in step-by-step from line to space to line to space and so on.

 

How to Read Music (in 30 days) - day 21: the Treble Clef

 

The bass clef is used for lower notes. The symbol for the bass clef is this:

How to Read Music (in 30 days) - day 22: the Bass Clef & the Grand Staff

And with it in place, the notes on the staff are:

How to Read Music (in 30 days) - day 22: the Bass Clef & the Grand Staff

 

 

Ledger Lines

Although the 5 lines and 4 spaces of the staff are already quite efficient at representing tones visually, we do also have a means of representing higher or lower notes than the staff would normally allow. We do so simply by adding lines, as they are needed, either on top of the staff for notes that go higher:

How to Read Music (in 30 Days) - Day 20: Ledger lines

Or below, for notes that go lower:

How to Read Music (in 30 Days) - Day 20: Ledger lines

These extra lines are called Ledger Lines (also spelled Leger)Just like the staff, notes can be placed through the ledger lines themselves:

How to Read Music (in 30 Days) - Day 20: Ledger lines

Or in between the spaces:

How to Read Music (in 30 Days) - Day 20: Ledger lines

Accidentals that belong to notes on ledger lines are no different than normal. They are written to the left of the note and parallel to the note head:

How to Read Music (in 30 Days) - Day 20: Ledger lines

 

And that’s the end of our crash course! Once you go through the workbook you’ll have a solid foundation to move on to learning music notation and theory. These will give you the fundamentals to write songs, compose music, learn your instrument faster, and anything else you’d like to do in music.