Knowing how to read music is a valuable skill for anyone involved in music composition, songwriting, performance, teaching, recording and production. Many instrumentalists are adept at sight-reading, which is the ability to play directly from a written score. However, a basic-to-intermediate-level reading ability will still help you to grasp the overall structure of a piece, what the key is, its level of complexity, tempo and timing, dynamics and many other musical details. This will allow you to better understand and communicate with other musicians, given you also understand the vocabulary and can follow along with the music.

Once you have the fundamentals down, a great way to learn how to read music is to get hold of some music scores (classical, jazz, and pop scores if possible) and try to follow along with the recordings. This will be easier if you know a musician or teacher who can help you to follow along at first. Scores can be found at traditional music stores and online sheet music retailers. If you’ve never read music before, let’s get started with some basics. The following information comes from Progressive Theory, available online.

The Musical Alphabet

The musical alphabet consists of 7 letters:


Each letter represents a music note. These notes are written on a staff, which consists of 5 parallel lines. Notes are written on these lines and in the spaces between them.



The Treble Staff

A staff with a treble clef written on it is called a treble staff:

The notes on the lines and spaces on the staff are named alphabetically as shown below. Each new note is said to be higher or lower in pitch than the one before it or after it.

The head of a note indicates its position on the staff, as shown:


When the note head is below the middle staff line the stem points upward and when the head is above the middle line the stem points downward. A note placed on the middle line (B) can have its stem pointing either up or down.

Notes on the Treble Staff



Notes on the Bass Staff


The following staff has notes written on the lines and in the spaces of the bass staff in random order. Using a sheet of paper, copy the following notes and write the note name above each one. This will help you to test your note name knowledge, and improve sight reading.


The Grand Staff

When the treble and bass staves are joined together by a line and a bracket, they are called a grand staff. Piano and keyboard music are written on the grand staff.


Bar Lines

In most music, bar lines are drawn across the staff, which divides the music into sections called bars or measures. A double bar line signifies the end of an important section of music, while a final bar line is written at the end of a piece.


If you’ve enjoyed this introduction to reading music and would like continue further, we recommend you check out Progressive Theory, available online now.


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