Those who want to learn and understand music, probably already wanted to know how to read sheet music, after all, this is the most complete musical writing that exists. Besides that, when a musician confesses that he/she doesn’t know sheet music, generally he/she loses his reputation, and this is really inconvenient.

The problem is that learning sheet music through books is really complicated, because the explanations that you find are really hard to assimilate. Our objective here is to stop with this problem. Yes, it is possible to learn sheet music, and it is not hard! We will explain everything now and show you how this knowledge will give you many benefits.

How to read sheet music in practice

Sheet music registers the harmonic, rhythmic and melodic ideas. This is why, while reading this chapter, you will probably remember that moment when you learned the alphabet. The same way you memorized the sound of each letter, you will also need to memorize the way that each note is shown in the paper. In the end you will be dominating a new language! Let’s start:

Music staff

Staff is the region where we write the notes. This region is created by lines and spaces. Each line and each space are used to represent a different note. In the image below, you can see the numeration of lines (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th).

how to learn sheet music

Notice that there are 5 lines in the staff. It is possible to create more lines to reach other octaves (the first C of this example and the last A, are in extra lines, also called as Ledger Lines). We will talk about these extra lines soon. For now, we want that you notice that each line and each space are used to represent one different note in sequence.

Treble Clef

Musicians, throughout time, have chosen different positions for the notes in the staff lines. This is why clefs were created, these symbols that would serve to sign the note and the line of reference that was adopted. The most common clef for guitar, piano and voice is the Treble Clef. It received this name because it informs us that the note that will be in the second line will be a G. Notice that the design of the clef itself starts in the second line (shown in red in the image below):

treble clef

Very well, now that you know where the Treble Clef is, you can register all the other notes following the same logic that we saw.

Observation: You should have noticed that the first thing that you have to know “by heart” to read sheet music is the sequence of notes, backwards and vice versa!

Now let’s make clear what is the relation of these “dots” in the paper have with the instrument. In the image below are shown the octaves of a common piano. Notice that each C has a different position in the staff, depending on the octave it is located. We will use a number beside each letter C to say which octave it is located:

central c

Observation: This Central C (C4) is the one which is located in the center of the keyboard or piano. To find it, even easier, we will enlarge the highlighted octave in red (Central C) and show the correspondence of the notes in the instrument as registered in the staff:

sheet music

In the guitar, the central C is located in the third fret, fifth string:

central c guitar

Observation: Sheet music for guitar is displaced of one octave in relation to the piano. Actually, Central C in the piano corresponds to the C place in the second string of the guitar. This displaced definition was chosen to help the writing, because if it wasn’t like this, the writing in the guitar would need a lot of Ledger Lines to represent the most common and simple chords. The right thing to do to represent the sheet music is putting the symbol “8” in the Treble Clef, indicating that the representation is displaced of one octave in relation to Central C in the piano:

central c piano

But not all the writers put this symbol, so be attentive to the instrument in question to locate it correctly. We will continue teaching how to read sheet music in the next topic:

Go to: Bass Clef

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