Have you ever heard a song on the radio and thought, “Hey, it’d be really cool to know how to play that.”? Do you have friends who play musical instruments, and you want to get in on the fun? Do you just want to expand your general artistic knowledge? Well, learning the basics of how to read sheet music can help you achieve all of these, and in a shorter amount of time than you might have thought!
At its very simplest, music is a language just like you’d read aloud from a book. The symbols you’ll see on pages of sheet music have been used for hundreds of years. And they represent the pitch, speed and rhythm of the song they convey, as well as expression and techniques used by a musician to play the piece. Think of the notes as the letters, the measures as the words, the phrases as the sentences and so forth. Learning to read music really does open up a whole new world to explore!
Music Terms / Definitions:
Staff: A staff of music is made up of five horizontal lines and four spaces. Each line and space represents a key on the piano. Notes and rests are then placed on the staff.
Clef: A clef is a symbol at the beginning of a staff of music which makes it possible for the player to work out what the notes are. It indicates the pitch of the notes on that staff to be played. The two most common clefs are the Treble Clef and Bass Clef.
Measure: Sheet music is divided into Measures. Each individual Measure lasts for the same time duration, and can consist of a combination of notes and rests. A measure ends where a vertical bar line goes through the staff (horizontal lines) on sheet music.
Note: A note is represented by a sign, which tells the musician the duration and pitch of a sound.
Pitch: The specific frequency of a sound. Notes to the right of the keyboard have a higher pitch than the notes to the left.
Beat: A beat is the name for a unit of music. Musicians learn to count beats, and play notes for the specified number of beats. Some use a metronome, this device counts out beats, and will tick according to which timing you have set. Counting beats starts when the first note is played.
Time Signature: The time signature, also known as a “meter”, tells the musician how many notes are in a measure.
Time Signatures (Meters):
The below table summarizes the different types of time signatures and their associated beats.
There are many more time signatures, but it is a good idea to start with the 4/4 time signature as it is easier to count.
Below are the rules of the 4/4 time signature:
– There are 4 beats in one measure
– When you play a whole note, count out 4 beats
– When you play a half note, count out 2 beats
– When you play a quarter note, count out 1 beat and then move onto the next note.
– 2 eight notes should fit into 1 beat
– 4 sixteenth notes fit into 1 beat