Learning how to read sheet music
Learning how to read sheet music involves knowledge of musical conventions
If you're a beginning musician or you're considering music lessons on an instrument which requires you to learn how to read sheet music, check out these essentials.
Not all instruments demand the ability to read shape notes. Some musicians play only or mostly by ear, and the guitar relies more on chords than on individual notes, unless you're ripping out a solo. But if you want to know how sheet music works, the following sections explain key things you need to grasp while learning how to read sheet music.
Notes have different positions depending on which clef they appear in. Some instruments play primarily in the treble or the bass clef, but piano scores typically contain both. The sign for the treble clef, the higher one, looks like a fancy G. The sign for the bass clef, the lower one, looks like a curved shepherd's rod with a colon to the right of it.
Each clef will contain a series of horizontal lines and spaces. Each line and space represents a note. (Musical tones consist of octaves; each octave has notes A through G.) Memorizing note positions is a key skill you must develop as you learn how to read sheet music. The more you do it, the more proficient you become, just like learning to read words.
When you're first learning how to read sheet music, you may find mnemonic devices helpful in remembering which notes the lines and spaces represent. Some people benefit, and some do not.
Learning how to read sheet music is more than knowing your notes, just as reading a book is more than knowing the alphabet. The time signature is another important factor. It consists of two numbers, one above the other, which appear to the right of the clef sign but before the notes begin. The bottom number tells you which type of note gets one count, and the top number tells you how many beats per measure. (One measure is the space between two vertical lines, and a song will consist of many measures.) Thus the time signature dictates your rhythm.
Type of Notes
In order for the time signature to make sense, you need to understand types of notes. Notes have different shapes, fillings, and lines to help you understand how long to hold them. Learning these types of notes is an essential part of learning how to read sheet music.
Types of Rests
Types of rests tie in closely with types of notes. In fact, each note has a corresponding rest. A rest is a brief moment of silence between two notes you sound.
Sheet music may contain a multitude of other markings which direct you to do different things. Some markings instruct you on changes in volume, also called dynamics. Various words may indicate the speed at which you play. Some musical symbols indicate repeating a section, skipping to an ending, returning to a specified point in the sheet music, and so forth. Other symbols denote sharp and flat tones of the regular A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.
Learning how to read sheet music, because it involves so many different aspects, is best done through an organized set of tutorials or a beginner-level workbook series. Several music publishers, such as Alfred, have put together well-organized and well-loved curriculum series. Investing in one of these is wise because it teaches music theory, gives you practice songs that incorporate the concepts, and builds on previous concepts and skills to help you become a better musician.