This article in the first of a series on how to read music for beginners.
This is part 1 and will cover the notes on the staff.
This series on how to read music will be particularly focused on guitarists wanting to learn to read music and will cover the basics of reading music.
When looking at sheet music the staff is where all of your notes will be located.
The staff is made up of 5 lines – a note placed on each of those lines or in the spaces between those lines represents a different note.
Which notes those lines represent depends on whether we you are playing on a treble clef or a bass clef.
Bassier instruments use the bass clef and higher sounding instruments use the treble clef. As a guitarist this distinction isn’t too important as you will always be using the treble clef.
The notes on the Treble Clef
The treble clef looks like a fancy letter G, kind of. When this fancy G shows up at the start of the staff it indicates that you are playing on the treble clef.
O.k. so let’s look back on the staff.
There are 5 lines and each of those lines and the spaces between those lines represent notes.
The notes ON the lines
On the treble clef (which is what guitarists will use) the notes are as follows.
So the lines from the bottom are E, G, B, D, F.
To remember this I like to use this:
- Every Good Boy Deserves Food
There are a few different ones for this but this is the one that I remembered the most. As long as you remember it, it doesn’t matter what you use.
With me so far?
Cool, ok so now let’s take a look at the spaces in between the lines.
The notes BETWEEN the lines
The notes between the lines on the treble clef are as follows:
So, the notes between the lines are F, A, C & E.
I find the easiest way to remember this is simply that they spell the word FACE.
This might all sound a bit confusing at first if you are completely new to reading music but also remember that these notes are also in alphabetical order.
So from the bottom line up and including the spaces the notes are simply:
E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F
How These Notes Relate to the Guitar
You might be wondering where on the guitar these notes are. So let’s take a look, one note at a time, starting with the notes on the lines.
- E = 2nd fret D string (4th string)
- G = open G string (3rd string)
- B = open B string (2nd string)
- D = 3rd fret B string (2nd string)
- F = 1st fret e string (1st string)
And now between the lines:
- F = 3rd fret D string (4th string)
- A = 2nd fret G string (3rd string)
- C = 1st fret B string (2nd string)
- E = open e string (1st string)
Now you might be wondering of course where the other notes on the guitar fit in.
The other notes on the guitar
Starting with the spaces directly above and below the staff.
The open D string (4th string) is notated just under the bottom line (again remember that it’s all alphabetical.
The 3rd fret e string (1st string) is notated just above the top line – i.e. this note is a G and is notated one space above the F (which is the note of the top line).
What about notes higher and lower than those?
For anything that is higher or lower than those notes we simply add in a small line. The line won’t go across the entire staff like the main lines – it will be just wide enough for the note to go onto or under.
For example the C note (played on the 3rd fret of the A string) will be placed on a line just under the staff.
The B (2nd fret A string) would sit just under that:
The A (open A string) would sit on a second line created:
The G note (3rd fret E string) sits under that second line:
The F note (1st fret E string) sits on the third extra line:
And finally the E note (open E string) will sit just under that 3rd line.
The same goes for the higher notes. Playing an A on the high e string (5th fret e string) the note would sit on a line created just above the staff.
And so on as you get higher and higher notes.
What about the sharps and flats?
I will go into the sharps and flats in another lesson because this also requires the explanation of key signatures.
Over to You
Thanks for reading and I hope this has helped you to learn some of the basics of reading music.
Play around with the notes on the guitar and where they would be located on the staff. The best way to become familiar with this is to play the notes.
In the next lesson we will look at key signatures and flats and sharps and how all that works. And after that we’ll take a look at the value of the notes so that you can learn how to read rhythm.
You may have noticed that the natural notes of the staff (without any flats or sharps) are the same as the notes in the C major scale and the A minor scale. If you haven’t already familiarized yourself with those scales check out the links below.