In part 1 of how to read music for guitar we looked at the notes on the staff.
In particular we looked at the notes on the treble clef because this is the clef that is used for the guitar.
If you are aren’t familiar with staffs and clefs and the notes of the treble clef then you should go back and learn that first before continuing with this lesson. Check out part 1 at the link below.
In part 1 we looked at the lines and spaces between the lines on the treble clef and which notes they represented.
We also learned where on the guitar those notes are.
We looked at the extra notes above and below the staff – but what we didn’t look at was notes with sharps and flats and we didn’t look at key signatures.
Sharps and Flats
To represent a sharp or flat we could just add a flat symbol or sharp symbol next to the note to indicate what that note should be.
The notes above are an F sharp and a G flat (the same note) – which would be played on the 4th fret of the D string (4th string).
This is one way to do it but music has a more clever way to do this.
Key signatures are a way of telling the musician which “key” they are in.
For example you might be in the key of C major.
In this case the notes of that key would be the notes of the C major scale. For the key of C major there are no flats or sharps so this is easy.
But what about if you are in the key of A major for example. A major has 3 sharps. Instead of writing those notes as sharps every time, the key signature is notated at the beginning of the staff.
So using A major as an example instead of writing out the scale with the sharps in it we add the sharps at the start of the staff like so.
How come some music still shows sharps and flats?
Of course there may be times when a piece of music throws in a note or two outside of the scale and in this case you would simply write the sharp or flat symbol to notate that. Or sometimes you will need to put in a natural symbol.
For example if you were in the key of A major and the piece of music used a C then showing the note like this would indicate a C# (since there is a sharp in the key signature at the start of the staff):
So to represent a C we would add a natural symbol to the note.
In the diagram above the first note would be a C# and the note with the natural symbol would become a C.
More on Key Signatures
If the key signature has sharps or flats these sharps or flats are always shown in a particular order on the staff.
For example if you are in the key of C minor then you would have 3 flats. The B flat is shown first, then the E flat and then the A flat.
The flats are listed in the following order.
For sharps they are shown in this order:
This makes sense because the keys with one sharp are G major and E minor. These keys have an F# (the first on the list). The keys with two sharps have F# and C# (D Major and B minor). And so on.
The same goes for the flats. The F Major and D Minor both have just one flat and that flat is Bb. The keys with 2 flats have Bb and Eb (Bb Major and G Minor).
Over to You
That was probably a lot of information to take in if you are new to this stuff. It’s o.k. if you don’t get it at first it takes a bit of understanding to begin with.
I encourage you to play the notes on your guitar to become more familiar with them and how it works.
Write out a simple staff with a key signature and the scale of that key signature. For example you could start with A major. Write out the scale using the key signature as shown above and play the notes on the guitar making sure you are actually playing the A major scale – and read the music as you do it.
Thanks for reading and I hope this article has increased your understanding of how to read music.
In the next lesson we will take a look at the value of the notes so that you can learn to read rhythm. Don’t worry this will be easier than this lesson (at least I found it easier to learn).
If you haven’t had a chance to look at how to read music part 1 I encourage you to do so first.