1 Study the musical alphabet. The musical alphabet is made up of only 7 letters (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G), but it’s the basic language that musicians use to write and talk about musical notes. Between these 7 notes there are also 5 other notes that are either sharp or flat. Sharp notes are 1 note higher in pitch than the regular letter that it uses, while flat notes are 1 note lower in pitch.
- For example, the A-sharp note is slightly higher in pitch than a regular A note.
- These notes are always in alphabetical order, going from A to G, on any instrument. When you go past the G note, the next note is just another A note and the entire order is repeated.
- If you play a musical instrument like piano, you can map this alphabet out on your instrument. For instance, memorize where the “C” note is played on the piano and then you’ll also know where C-flat, C-sharp, B, D, A, E, and F are on the opposite sides of the C key.
2 Get to know the basic elements of reading sheet music. Sheet music is written on a set of horizontal, parallel lines called the staff. Other small figures and lines are written on or around the staff to indicate things like which notes are played, how long each note is played for, and what rhythm the music should be played in.
- Clefs are various shapes written at the very beginning of a music staff, which tell you what pitches are on what line or space of the staff. The treble clef looks sort of like an ampersand, while the bass clef looks like a backwards C with 2 dots on top of it.
- The key signature appears next to the clef and is composed of 1 or several # (sharp) or b (flat) symbols on individual lines of the staff. These symbols indicate that all notes played on that line should either be played either sharp or flat.
- The notes on the staff lines indicate which notes to play on an instrument and are made up of 3 parts: the note head (a black oval that is either open or closed), the stem (the vertical line attached to the note head), and the flag (the curved stroke at the top of the stem).
- Note that not all notes contain all 3 parts at the same time. Different combinations of open or closed note heads, stems, and flags tell you how long to play an individual note in terms of beats or fractions of beats. For instance, an open note with no stem or flag is played for 4 beats, while a closed note with a stem is played for 1 beat.
3 Learn the difference between scale and pitch. Pitch refers to how high or low on an instrument you play a certain note, such as the “C” note. There are 7 keys of difference between 2 different pitches of the same note (e.g., on a piano, you can play an A note in a higher pitch by moving 7 keys to the right). Conversely, scales are sets of notes that sound particularly good when played sequentially and are thus commonly used in songwriting.
- When you change the pitch of 1 note, you have to also change the pitch of any other note that you play with that first note in a scale.
- There are major scales for each of the 7 notes. There are also minor scales, which are similar to major scales, except the 3rd note in the scale is a half step lower than it is in the major scale.
4 Familiarize yourself with chords. Chords are formed when 3 or more notes of the same pitch are played at the same time. After you’ve learned the different notes on your instrument, the next thing you should do is learn some of the most common chords played on it.
- For example, the C, E, and G notes are commonly played together across a variety of instruments as a single chord.
5 Make sure you’re aware of the importance of rhythm. Rhythm, in terms of music, refers to the consecutive arrangement of notes or beats placed at equal intervals of time. This means that you have to allow for the same amount of silence in between each musical note, or else the flow of the piece can be ruined.
- The rhythm at which a piece of music should be played is indicated on a staff by a time signature, made up of 2 vertically placed numbers next to the clef. The top number indicates how many beats there are in a measure of music, while the bottom number represents the note value which makes 1 beat.
- For example, a ¾ time signature would indicate that each measure in a piece of music contains 3 beats, while each beat contains 4 notes.