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How to read music

No matter which instrument you wish to play; be it guitar, piano, violin, saxaphone, trumpet, whatever; all musical instruments use the same notation to tell you which note to play.  This site uses the piano as an example to explain how to read music.  Once you understand it, you can apply it to any other instrument. 


Basic piano keyboard

Repeating Pattern of keys

Repeating Pattern of keys

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The keyboard of a piano is made up of a series of black and white keys.

Repeating Pattern of keys

Repeating Pattern of keys

Repeating Pattern of keys

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The black keys are arranged in a series of 3 black keys, then 2 black keys, then 3 black keys, then 2 black keys, and so on for the whole keyboard

Notes on the keyboard

Repeating Pattern of keys

Middle C - the very center of the piano

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Doe, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, doe forms the first basic scale on the keyboard.  It begins with C, plays all white keys and ends on the next C.

Middle C - the very center of the piano

Middle C - the very center of the piano

Middle C - the very center of the piano

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Everything above Middle C is called Treble.  Everything below Middle C is called Bass.

This is a Treble Clef

Middle C - the very center of the piano

This is a Treble Clef

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To find a note on the keyboard you have to know if it is above or below Middle C.  Notes written on the lines with the Treble Clef are above Middle C.

bass clef

Middle C - the very center of the piano

This is a Treble Clef

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Notes written on the lines with the Bass Clef are found below Middle C.


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The grand staff

The grand staff

The grand staff

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The Treble Clef lines combined with the Bass Clef lines makes the Grand Staff.  Any note for any instrument can be located on the Grand Staff.

Middle C

The grand staff

The grand staff

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Notice the Grand Staff.  Find the Bass Clef.  Find the Treble Clef.  Look at the diagram of the Keyboard.  Notice the two black keys.  The first white key to the left of the black key is always called C.  And the C key in the middle of the keyboard is called Middle C.  Middle C is located on the Grand Staff right between the Treble Clef and the Bass Clef.

Whole note

The grand staff

Whole note rest

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Any note has a rhythmic value.  That is, ‘how fast do you play the note?’  A whole note is a long sounding note and is held for the entire length of a measure.

Whole note rest

Whole note rest

Whole note rest

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As a song gets played, sometimes there is a beat or two of silence.  If no note is played,  that is called a “REST”.  This is a picture of a whole note rest.

Half note

Whole note rest

Half note rest

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A half note has 1/2 the value of a whole note.  It has a head just like a whole note and it also has a stem.  The whole note is the only note without a stem.

Half note rest

Whole note rest

Half note rest

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You can remember the difference between a half note rest and a whole note rest by thinking that it has less value and so can sit on top of the line.  The whole note is longer (heavier) and sits below the line.


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Quarter note

Quarter note rest

Quarter note rest

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A quarter note gets one beat.  If a whole note is held for four beats, the quarter note, being one-fourth as long, will get held for just one beat.

Quarter note rest

Quarter note rest

Quarter note rest

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If one beat of silence is to occur in a song, the quarter note rest is used.  When you see it, stop playing any notes for one beat.  The flag head faces right.

Eighth note

Quarter note rest

Eighth note rest

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As a song picks up speed, the notes get played faster and faster.  The eighth note gets 1/2 beat.  It is played twice as fast as a quarter note.

Eighth note rest

Sixteenth not rest

Eighth note rest

The song won't stop for long with an eighth note rest; just 1/2 a beat.  The flag-head faces left.

The eighth note rest has a flag head pointing to the left.  Stop playing music for 1/2 beat when you see this rest.

Sixteenth note

Sixteenth not rest

Sixteenth not rest

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Now the song is moving really fast with this note.  It has two flags and is played twice as fast as an eighth note.  If there were four beats to a whole note, there would be sixteen of these.  That’s really fast.

Sixteenth not rest

Sixteenth not rest

Sixteenth not rest

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The song will not stop for long with the sixteenth note rest.  Barely a hiccough.  It’s fast.  Note the two flag heads facing left.  


More to come

This site will be continually updated with more information.