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.
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.
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
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.
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!