The Basics of Musical Notation

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With musical notation we write down musical sounds and silences. Here you'll learn about the different parts that make up the Notation of Music.

Perhaps it seems like it's nothing special today, with musical notes and sheet music available everywhere, but imagine that you were living in the stone age and said you had the power to write down musical sounds... 

You’d be the major wizard of that clan, I bet!

However "magic", this tool we now have to actually put sound on paper- is totally worthless unless someone else can understand it.

And that is why you are here. To learn to decode musical notation, and not only that but to learn how to read music notes!

Click on the links below to read more about each topic. 

Basic Musical Notation

The Musical Staff

Musical Staff

Let's begin with the foundation of musical notation; the staff lines. A music staff are the five lines, where on and between it all happens! Different forms of musical notation have existed all over the world for many thousands of years.

But in the musical notation of the western hemisphere, it took until around 800 AD, to actually invent musical symbols, and until around the 11th century AD to invent The Line… Read More about the Staff>> 

Music Pitch

Did you know that a musical note itself can show only one thing; the note value, but placed on a staff it can show also the pitch? How high or low the sound is- this is called music pitch , and how long or short the sound is, this is called note value. Read more about Music Pitch >>

The Music Clef

Musical Clefs

Music Clefs: The G clef , F clef and C clef. The clefs are symbols on the staff to help you find exactly where a tone is to be sung, or played on an instrument. Without the clefs, the notes are still nameless…whoa!

Each clef represents a certain range of pitches; low, middle or high range. >> Learn more about the the music clef here.

  • Need help with the Bass Clef Note Names? Get free printable flash cards and a great lesson where you'll learn the note names of the bass, or F clef. >> Read more: Bass Clef Notes
  • Or, maybe you need to get better at the Treble Clef Notes? Get free printable flash cards and a great lesson where you'll learn the note names of the treble, or G clef. >> Read more: Treble Clef Notes

The Key Signature

Key signature

All those signatures… the key signature, is the collection of sharps or flats bunched together at the start of each staff.

The key signature tell us what scale the piece is made up from, so we know which notes to raise or lower to get the right “color” of that particular tonality, or key. >> Read more about the Key Signature.

Music Note Symbols: Note Values

Note values

Half note, whole note, quarter note, 8th notes… Note values are what we call the basic music notes when we talk about how long or short each tone is.

Learning about note values will help you to read rhythm (and make you better at fractions as well!). >> Learn about Note Values.

The Bar Line

Bar lines

The music barline is the vertical line that divide the music in measures.

Bar lines are actually not extremely important in themselves, rather a bother at times, but they help you when reading notes to visually divide the notes in groups on the staff.

These groups, also called measures or bars, are based on the beat, or the underlying pulse of the piece. >> Learn about the music bar line here.

Time Signatures

Time Signatures

Fractions again! If there are bar lines, there must be a time signature!

Time signatures are the two numbers at the start of the piece that tells you how many beats there are in each measure, and what note is worth one beat. It may change- so watch out!

Mini Glossary with Common Musical Terms

Musical Notation
  • Note: The written sound or tone.
  • Tone: The sound you hear.
  • Pitch: How high (treble) or low (bass) a tone or note is
  • Range: For example, how many tones an instrument can play or how high and low you can sing- between that is your range.
  • Note value: How long (or short) a note is.
  • Rhythm: Combination of long and short sounds and silences (called rests).
  • Key: Can mean the key on a piano (black or white), but in music theory we normally use it to talk about what scale the music is built from, or its tonality.
  • Tonality: What scale the music is composed with.
Musical Notation

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