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How to Read Music Made Easy | Beginner's Guide

from the Music Theory Index

Every great musician didn't know a thing when they started. If you're ready to follow in their footsteps this guide is the perfect place to start. By the time you get to the end you'll be well on your way to being a great musician too!

The Staff

The staff is made up of five lines and four spaces. These lines and spaces, together with a clef, show us how high or low to play the notes.

The Clefs

The two most common clefs are the TREBLE CLEF (G Clef) and the BASS CLEF (F Clef).

The notes in the TREBLE CLEF (G Clef) are the middle and high notes. The purpose of this clef is to show where "G" is positioned on the staff. (The "G" line is the second line from the bottom, where the treble clef gets all swirly.)

The notes in the BASS CLEF are the middle and low notes. The purpose of this clef is to show where "F" is positioned on the staff. (The "F" line is the fourth line from the bottom, in between the two dots.)

All other notes are positioned on the staff relative to these notes.


A basic set of note values include the whole note, dotted half note, half note and quarter note. In a single piece of music a composer will use a variety of rhythmic values.

The WHOLE NOTE receives 4 BEATS (Count 1-2-3-4)

The DOTTED HALF NOTE receives 3 BEATS (Count 1-2-3)

The HALF NOTE receives 2 BEATS (Count 1-2)

The QUARTER NOTE receives 1 BEAT (Count 1)


Music is both a combination of sound and silence. The length of the silence in music is determined by a rest.

The WHOLE REST is a unique rest. It often means to rest for four beats, though simply means rest for the "whole" measure.

The HALF REST receives 2 BEATS (Count 1-2)

The QUARTER REST receives 1 BEAT (Count 1)

Key Signature

Following the clef is the KEY SIGNATURE.

The KEY SIGNATURE tells you which notes to play flat or sharp.

Sometimes there are flats or sharps in the key signature. Sometimes there's nothing at all. If flats appear in the key signature, those notes should be lowered one half step throughout the piece. If sharps appear in the key signature, those notes should be raised one half step throughout the piece.

Time Signature

Following the key signature is the TIME SIGNATURE. It's the two numbers that look like a fraction (but it's not). Each number has a specific thing to tell you about the piece.

The TOP NUMBER tells you how many beats there are in each measure.

The BOTTOM NUMBER tells you what kind of note get the beat.

In this example each measure receives 4 beats, and the quarter note gets the beat.

That's it. That's the basic stuff that musicians know to play and write the music we hear every day. Congratulations on your choice to learn music!

Want to Drill Your Music Reading Skills?

The following printable worksheets, flash cards, and games, will provide you with the next step in building musical your skills.

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