Reading notes is not that hard. With a few simple tricks you can quickly get to the bottom of the apparent confusion of lines, ellipses, strokes and flags. Just watch our short videos.
1. Part: The Pitch
You can read the pitch from the position of the notes on the staves. Find out exactly how to do it here.
0:24 How many staves are there and what do they stand for??
0:50 What are the names of the notes in treble clef (G clef)??
1:32 What are auxiliary lines?
1:46 What are the notes in bass clef (F clef) called??
2:16 What to remember?
2:34 Learn how to read music
Have fun watching and good luck with the implementation!
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In the download section you can download the worksheets for free.
A note consists of a note head and sometimes also has a note stem. But why are some notes filled in and others not? What do the necks and flags mean and why are they all on different lines?? These questions are answered in this article.
In the modern staff, there are five staves that indicate the exact pitch of a note. Note heads can be on a note line or in a space between them. The clefs indicate which staff represents which note.
The most important clefs are first of all the treble clef or G clef and the bass clef or. F clef. The names come from the original spelling of the clefs. Let’s first take a look at the notation in the G clef. Here the belly of the clef circles the G line. This means that all notes on this line are a G.
As long as there are no accidentals (accidentals are explained in the article on scales), the C major scale underlies (these are the white keys on the piano.) So if it goes from one note line to the next space above it or from one space to the next note line above it, it goes up one step in the C major scale. If it goes down one step, i.e. into the space or onto the line below, it goes down one step in the C major scale. If the lines are not enough, any number of auxiliary lines can be used, but in most cases a maximum of two are used to make it easier to read.
The F clef has the F line between the two points, so notes on this line are an F.
The note on the first auxiliary line below the staff of the G clef is the same as the note on the first auxiliary line above the staff of the F clef, namely the C, so they complement each other perfectly. Otherwise, the same rules apply as for G clef.
What to remember?
The staves and spaces between notes represent exact pitches, the clefs indicate what they are. As long as there are no accidentals, the lines and spaces represent only notes of the C major scale, i.e. the white keys on the piano.
Memorize the C major scale in both directions, i.e., C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C and C, B, A, G, F, E, D, C. The C major scale is very easy to learn, because it is, with the exception of the B, a part of the ABCs. If you can do this, you only need to remember one note line, and you can count off the rest by writing out for each note line or. each space you go one step further in the scale.
You know the G in the G clef and want to find out the marked note, then you just count G, A, B, C and you know that this is a C.
2. Part: The note values
The note value, that is, how long a note is played, is indicated by a different appearance of the notes. The video explains what the different note values are.
0:27 The whole note and the half note
0:39 The quarter note
0:49 The eighth, sixteenth, and thirty-second notes
1:08 The rest marks
1:24 What are the bars that sometimes connect several notes called??
1:41 What are dottings?
2:32 What to remember?
Have fun watching it and good luck!
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The note values
In case you missed the first part of the series "The Pitch", you can find here look it up again. There we learned what the staves are for and how they indicate pitch.
Today we will deal with the appearance of the notes. Why are some notes filled in and others not? What do the necks and these flags mean? All this is related to the duration of the note.
The note values picture shows a whole note at the top, it is not filled in and has no stem. Below these are two half notes. They are also not filled in, but have an additional stem. They are each played half as long as a whole note. The quarter note is half as long as the half note and a quarter times as long as the whole note. It is completely filled in and has a note stem. The eighth note is also completely filled in, but has a flag in addition to the neck of the note. It is logically one-eighth times as long as the whole note. So eight eighth notes correspond to one whole note. The 16th note has two flags, the 32nd has three, the 64th has four.
Each note value has a corresponding rest sign. Attention, it is easy to confuse here the half rest sign and the whole rest sign.
You have surely seen notes like in the picture Further notation and ask yourself, what note value they have. Several eighth notes that belong together are connected with bars to make it easier to read. The same applies to 16th and 32nd notes, here: the number of flags corresponds to the number of bars.
Now we come to dotted rests. If there is a dot behind the note (note: behind the note, not above or below the note, that is described here), the note is lengthened by half of its value.
For example, the dotted half note: a half note is as long as two quarter notes. Half of two quarter notes is a quarter note, so the half note is extended by a quarter note. The same applies to dotted rests. So a dotted quarter rest – half of a quarter is an eighth – is the same as a quarter rest and an eighth rest.
For notes, you can use slurs as an alternative to dots. The technical term for slurs is ligature.
But be careful: The note values say nothing about the absolute duration of the notes. For example, at a slow tempo, a quarter note sounds much longer than at a fast tempo.
What to remember?
The appearance of the notes indicates the ratio of the length of the notes to each other. The half note is half as long as the whole note, the quarter note is a quarter times as long as the whole note, etc. Dotted notes lengthen the note by half of its value, which can also be represented by a ligature, i.e. a stop bow.
The next part of the series is about the rhythm of music and how notes can be divided into measures.
3. Part: The rhythm
Depending on the chosen rhythm the same note values sound different. You can find out why this is so here.
0:00 What do the numbers at the beginning of the piece mean??
0:37 What do you need the time signature for??
1:04 Which note values are counted?
1:22 Example task: Setting bar lines
2:11 Another exercise
Have fun watching and good luck with the realization!
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In the third part of the series reading notes we talk about rhythm.
The Numbers at the beginning of the piece indicate the time signature. If there is a 4 above a 4, which is the most common time signature, especially in pop music, it is called 4/4 time (spoken: four quarter time). If there is a 3 above a 4, of a 3/4 beat, so like fractions in mathematics.
There are also time signatures like the 2/4, 2/2, 3/8, or 6/8 time signature, but they are less common. Therefore, we will concentrate here on the 4/4 and the 3/4 time signature. The basic principle described here can be applied to all other time signatures.
The time signature
The time signature indicates how many of the respective notes belong in a measure. (A bar is the space between two so-called bar lines). So in a 4/4 measure you can fit 4 quarter notes. However, the bars can also be filled with other note values. For example, with eight eighth notes, or two quarter notes and a half note. Mathematically must come out in the end only the value given by Taktart. The note values indicated by the lower number of the time signature are counted, so in this case, quarters. You can listen to an example of this in the video.
Setting bar lines
A typical task in connection with time signatures is setting bar lines. In this case, the time signature is given and the missing bar lines must be drawn in. In this example it is a 3/4 time signature. Now we count the note values. (If you don’t know it yet, watch the video on note values first)!). 2 eighth notes have the value of a quarter note; and a half note has the value of 2 quarter notes. So after this note we have the three quarter notes full and we have to make a bar line. After that it gets easy, here are three quarter notes, logically we have to set a bar line after that too. Then comes another half note, which counts as much as two quarters, plus another quarter note makes three quarters again, i.e. a full measure.
Changing time signature in a piece
Conversely, the bar lines could also be given and the time signature must be found out. For this you simply count how many quarter notes are in a bar. We see a half note and two quarter notes. This results in 4/4. Then a whole note, which is also four quarters. But beware: even in the middle of the piece, the time signature can still change, as we see here. The next two bars have only 3 quarter notes each and are therefore in 3/4 time.
4. Part: Special characters and show-off knowledge
In this video, you will learn about special characters that are not often used, but are still relevant for notating music as accurately as possible.
0:20 The C clef
0:36 How to read notes in C clef?
0:53 Alto and tenor clef – What is the difference??
1:40 Octaving clefs
2:24 The percussion clef – how to write drum notes?
2:57 What does an x-shaped note head mean??
3:59 What do dots above / below notes mean?
4:53 Legato with sound example
5:06 Staccato with sound example
Have fun watching and good luck with the implementation!
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Special characters and show-off knowledge
In this section we will talk about special features when notating music. If you haven’t seen the first three parts of this series, resp. If you don’t quite understand the basics yet, we recommend that you read the previous parts first, or read the next part first. Watch the videos, otherwise this part will confuse you rather than help you.
In the first part of this series, we mentioned that there are clefs other than G and F clef. One of these clefs is the C clef. This clef also originated from a letter, namely the C, even if it is hardly recognizable anymore.
So on the line in the middle of the clef is the note C. This is the same C that is on the first auxiliary line below the staff of the G clef and on the first auxiliary line above the staff of the F clef, i.e. the dotted C.
The alto clef and the tenor clef
But be careful: this clef can be moved to different lines. When it is on the middle line it is called alto clef. Then the C is accordingly also on the middle line. The alto clef is still used today for viola notation. The C clef can also be on the second line from the top, in which case it is called tenor clef. In some cases this is still used today for the trombone, bassoon and cello. In the past, the C clef was also placed on other staves, but this is no longer common today.
Fun fact: In the past, the other keys were also placed on other lines, but this has not been printed for a long time.
Octavation of clefs
What is still often done is to octave keys up or down. To do this, write an 8 above or below the key. If there is an 8 above the treble clef, the notated notes are played one octave higher. If the G shown is notated in the high octave treble clef, the high G is played in the non-octave treble clef, i.e. in the "normal" treble clef, so to speak.
If there is an 8 under the treble clef, the note is played an octave lower than in the non-octavated clef. In the example shown, this means that you don’t have to use so many auxiliary lines, which makes it more readable.
The percussion clef
Another key is the percussion clef. This is used for example for percussion. There are different ways to notate the elements of the drum kit. However, it is common to notate the elements played with the feet in the lower part of the system and the elements played with the hands in the upper part of the system. The following is an example of how to notate the elements of the percussion, but there are other conventions as well, you just have to see how the respective publisher handles it. Now, of course, you notice those notes with the X-shaped note heads. These are often used for the notation of the cymbals (sound examples in the video).
There are, however, other ways to use this type of notation. In the choral work "Good-Bye", for example, these notes are used to notate toneless whispering (sound example in the video). In principle, this notation can be used for all kinds of rhythmic elements, if there is no other notation convention for them. You should remember to add a legend to explain what the musicians are supposed to do. In the case of the choral work, "toneless whispering" is written above the passage as an explanation. Otherwise, the singers might have thought that you have to speak it out loud, clap the rhythm or do something else entirely, but with the explanation, it becomes clear.
Dots above or below the notes
Now it’s all about points. In the second part of the note reading series "Note values" it is explained that a note is lengthened by half of its value if a dot is placed behind it. However, a dot can also be placed above or below a note. In this case, the note value does not change, so an eighth note remains an eighth note and a quarter note remains a quarter note. Only the way of playing changes, i.e. the articulation. Melodies can be played in many different ways. A melody can be played tied, for example, with the notes blending into each other a bit (sound example in the video), this way of playing is called legato. Or each note is played separately and very briefly, or in the octave clef. also played choppily, this is called staccato (sound example in the video). So rhythmically and melodically the melody remains the same and only the way of playing it changes.
If the composer prefers the first version, for example, he can notate it clearly by writing a bow over the notes. The melody is then tied, i.e. played legato. But if he prefers the second version, he writes dots above or. under the notes and the notes are played separately, so staccato.