One of my favorite things to read has nothing to do with letters or symbols – but notes. Music notes. Something that you could say is even more interactive than a book, based on physicality and mental work. I’ve been playing my piano since I was eight years old – self-taught on how to read music since the age of thirteen. For those of you who want to grow in knowledge of something that brings joy to many hearts, perhaps including your own – then here is an introduction to reading music. You can search for music theory books via textbooks.org.

Sheet music isn't as difficult as it seems. (photo by Jose C Silva)

Sheet music isn’t as difficult as it seems. (photo by Jose C Silva)

There are two clefs: treble and bass. Treble will always appear on the music scale as the top. Bass will always be at the bottom. Generally, treble will be dominated by your left hand while bass will be dominated by your right.

The bass clef is exactly what it sounds as – bass notes, deeper, more vibrations, lower tones. The treble clef often plays melody with a lighter, less vibrating, higher tone.

Some instruments don’t require two clefs, like the trumpet – because you can only play one note at a time.

Time signatures are tricky things, but once you learn to read them, you’ll do just fine on rhythm. Datadragon shares:

“Time signatures tell you how many and what kind of notes per measure there are. The number on top is the number of notes per measure, and the bottom number is what kind of note. Let us explain further.

Let us take for example the most popular time signature, 4/4.
This means there is 4 quarter notes per measure. How is this so?

Looking at 4/4, you saw the 4 on top. You already knew that meant there were 4 somethings per measure. Then looking at the bottom number probably confused you. The bottom number can be 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc. Look at this chart.
Bottom Number Value
1 Whole note
2 Half note
4 Quarter note
8 Eighth note
16 Sixteenth note

For example:
3/4 is 3 quarter notes per measure.
5/2 is 5 half notes per measure.
6/8 is 6 eighth notes per measure.”

Now, onto notes:

Whole notes are circles that aren’t filled in. Half notes aren’t filled in as well, but they have tails attached to them. Quarter notes have tails as well, but the circle is filled in black. Eighth notes look the same as quarter notes, but they are attached to each other by groups of 4, 3, or 2. And sixteenth notes basically look like eighth notes with double attachments.

We do understand that music does have pauses. Of course, sometimes this is the time that music really speaks to us. To read rest notes, understand that whole rests will be attached to the middle line, facing down. Half rests will be the same, except facing upwards. Quarter rests are squiggly lines spanning all of the spaces between the lines. Eighth rests look like slanted lines with dots. Sixteenth rests look like eighth rests with double dots.

There you go! An intro to reading music.