How to Read Music

After you learn some of the basics of music notation at some point you must learn how to read music. When we say read music we mean to look at the notes on the lines and spaces and understand what they mean. They are your instructions for what to play.

Learn to Read Music

Note Placement

Notes are placed on the lines and spaces of a staff – a group of five lines and four spaces. The higher the note is on the staff the higher sound it will make. The lower the note is on the staff, the lower the sound. How to tell if a note is on a line or a space? Look at the note and see what goes right through the middle of it. It a line goes right through the middle of a note, then it is on a line. If a space goes right through the middle of the note, then it is a space note. Every line and space of a staff corresponds with a letter of the alphabet. Treble clef notes are not the same as bass clef notes.

Treble Clef Line Notes
Line Notes for Treble Clef
Treble Clef Space Notes
Space Notes for Treble Clef




Bass Clef Line Notes
Line Notes for Bass Clef
Bass Clef Space Notes
Space Notes for Bass Clef

Note Mnemonics

Sometimes we use little phrases or words to help us remember things. Here are some to help you remember the names of the lines and spaces.

Treble Clef Lines (from bottom to top): Every Good Boy Does Fine

Treble Clef Spaces (from bottom to top): F A C E

Bass Clef Lines (from bottom to top): Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always

Bass Clef Spaces (from bottom to top): All Cows Eat Grass

Ledger Lines

Problem – that is only 18 notes. Surely my instrument will play more than 18 notes! What about the rest of them? If we wrote a line/space for every note that we could play, we would have a mess! Can you imagine looking at a staff of 15 lines and trying to figure out exactly which line your note is on? That would be crazy! So, we have a solution. When we come to a note that is not on the staff, whether it is above the staff or below it, we just write a short line for that note. We call that a ledger line. We read up to or down to the note on the ledger line just like we do the notes on our staff lines and spaces. Alphabetical, A – G, starting over at A, until we get to the note on the ledger line. Look at these examples and see if you can figure them out. Reminder – lines go through the middle of a note.

Treble Clef Ledger Lines
Treble Clef Ledger Lines
Bass Clef Ledger Lines
Bass Clef Ledger Lines


A Couple More Suggestions

  • Read your notes from left to right – just like you read a book.
  • Learn to look ahead to see what note comes next. Does the note go up or down? Is it on a line or a space? At first you will read just one note at a time, but practice looking ahead.
  • Eventually, learn to read groups of notes at a time. Just like reading a book – when you first learn to read you make the sound of the letter, make the next sound, and the next sound, and then put the sounds together into a word. Pretty soon it is easy to read a word at a time, and you start to put sentences together. Music is just like that. Read a note at a time, then start to read groups of notes together. Pretty soon you will be able to see patterns in your music and you won’t even have to think of the note names when you play.

Now, get out there, read some music, and have a great time!

Renaissance Music

Renaissance MusicRenaissance music became much different from the music of the Middle Ages. Melodies and harmonies changed. New forms of music developed because more music was being used for entertainment. Music also became a leisure activity for the upper classes. The invention of the printing press in 1439 helped to spread copies of music and music theory texts. This allowed more people to participate in music.

Changes in Renaissance Music

During the time of the Renaissance music changed in several ways. Composers used more variety in the range of the melodies, in the rhythm patterns, and in the harmonies. The use of 3rds and 6ths became much more popular. Also, the texture of the music was much richer – there were more independent melodic parts. Composers got better at blending all these melodies together. The writers of the music were more concerned about having the music flow freely and having pleasing chord progressions.

Sacred music was still in great demand. Composers continued to write masses and sacred choral music, but they added some new forms, like motets and chorales (hymns sung by the congregation). Secular music changed as well.  It increased in popularity, and that required new forms of music. Composers were writing madrigals and chansons for vocalists, but there was a greater demand for instrumental music as well. So, composers developed the toccata and the prelude – new forms for instrumentalists to play. Operas became more and more popular as well.

Remember, during the Middle Ages, musicians figured out how to write music on paper to make it easier to teach the music to others. More changes in notation happened during the Renaissance. Composers were not using bar lines to divide the music into measures. The note values in use were longer – instead of using a quarter note to define one beat the composers used whole notes. Also, when they wrote out parts for instruments or singers, they did not write a complete score (a copy of all the parts together). They just wrote the individual parts. So, you could not look at one part and see what a different musician was supposed to be playing at the same time. And, composers did not always write the necessary sharps or flats in the music. The musicians just had to adjust, based on the way the music sounded.

Instruments of Renaissance Music

Renaissance music included four key groups of instruments. The brass section included instruments such as the slide trumpet, the cornett, the trumpet without any valves, and the sackbut, a forerunner of the trombone. The string family of the Renaissance period consisted of the viol, the lyre, the Irish harp, and the hurdy-gurdy. The string family also included the forerunners of the guitar and the mandolin, the gittern and the mandore. The woodwind family members were the shawm, the reed pipe, the bagpipes, the panpipe, the hornpipe, the recorders, and the transverse flute.  The keyboard instruments of the time included various virginals and early harpsichords and clavichords.

Important Composers of Renaissance Music

Guillame Dufay – also included in the section on Early Music. He was the greatest composer of the 1400’s. He was one of the first to use the more pleasing melodies, harmonies, and phrasing of the early Renaissance.

Josquin des Prez – the greatest composer of the 1500’s. He was a very prolific composer and wrote music in all the different forms available at the time.

Palestrina – He believed that the flow of music was important. He thought that the melody of the music should have very few leaps. He also felt that music should contain limited amounts of dissonance, and that any dissonance should be resolved promptly. Listen to some music of Palestrina: Music of Palestrina

Giovanni Gabrieli – He was famous for using dynamics and for using specific lists of instruments in his works. He even used carefully chosen instruments and singers in more than two groups performing together. Listen to some Gabrieli: Music of Gabrieli

Claudio Monteverdi – He was known for being a key composer in the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque eras of music.  He was also the first great opera composer and was very effective at projecting human emotions in his music. Here you can listen to some Monteverdi: Music of Monteverdi

Carlo Gesualdo – He was the most experimental and expressive composer of the Renaissance. He was also famous for violently killing his wife.

Did you miss our previous look at the Music of the Middle Ages? Check it out here: Music of the Middle Ages

How about our look at Music of the Ancients? You can read that here: Music of the Ancients

How to Help your Child Practice Music

Help Child PracticeSo you got your child started on music lessons. Now he must practice. That’s right, your child’s music teacher expects your child to actually practice between lessons. And if you really want to make those lessons worthwhile, you will have to help your child with this. What does that mean? What does that look like? Keep reading for some suggestions.

Practice is NOT what is supposed to happen during a music lesson.

During your child’s music lesson, the teacher expects to hear how your child has progressed since the last lesson. Has he mastered the material that was assigned? Has she corrected the mistakes or difficulties that were discussed at the last lesson? Also, the lesson is the time to focus on new concepts, new techniques, new music. But if the student does not demonstrate mastery of the last material, how can the teacher justify presenting new material? Practice at home is what allows the student to master material already taught. No practice = no progress!

What does it mean to practice music?

I suppose a good definition of practice is the repeated performance of a new skill or technique with the goal of improvement and mastery. The goal of every practice session should be to improve or perfect at least one problem.

Ideas you can use to help your child practice

Be present, not absent

Be present at the lesson so you know what the teacher expects your child to do.

Be present at practice times to encourage your child, to be sure your child is doing what the teacher expects.

Be positive, not critical

Encourage your child while he is practicing. Tell him he is doing a good job at working through something. Tell her she is following the teacher’s instructions well. Encourage him to keep going.

Consider practice time as play, rather than work.

I know real practicing is hard work, but a young child should view practice time as fun, not a chore. Have a set time every day for practice and see if you can turn at least some of it into a game.

Give praise, not pressure

Praise your child for doing something well. Praise her for following instructions. Praise him for completing an assignment. Don’t let your child come to associate practice time as stress time or pressure time. Don’t threaten.

As a child gets older and advances with his music the demands on the parent change. You are not required to be at every practice session – he becomes more independent with his practicing. But even them some parental involvement in still important. Continue to take an interest in their music. What are they playing? How does his teacher want him to play the piece? Show interest in his work and accomplishments. Maintain good communication with the teacher – is your student meeting the teacher’s expectations?

Notes to musical moms

  • Don’t sit down and play every piece for your child before they begin to learn it! This will not help your child learn or improve his music-reading skills. And it will not help your child to think through and interpret a piece for himself.
  • Don’t over-correct. I had problems with this. Listening to my kids practice and play things incorrectly would drive me crazy! But if I told them everything they needed to fix, they would never learn to listen and find the errors themselves. What to do? Sometimes you just have to leave! Leave the room, leave the house. I have just gotten up, walked around the neighborhood until I figured they were done practicing, and then came back.
  • Play duets with your child – just for fun! Or accompany them – just for fun! That will help to teach them that music can be fun! They also will see that playing with others is truly enjoyable.

What further suggestions do you have for help with practicing? Let us know in the comment section!