Understanding sheet music may seem impossible to the untrained eye. After all, sheet music contains lines that make it look more complicated than any other foreign language. But once you learn and understand fundamentals of pitch, rhythm, notes and key changes you’ll be able to read music without a hitch. If you have ever tried to uncover your musical talents but have hit the proverbial roadblock because of sheet music, you’ll be glad to know there is an easy way to understand it. Ready to get started? Grab your favorite songbook and instrument and follow the steps below.
- Defining the characteristics and components of sheet music. With an easy, less complex sheet music at hand, carefully study the layout of the sheet. Notice the sheet music has five horizontal lines with vertical lines throughout. Each horizontal line, and the spaces created between the lines, represents a different note. Going from the top to the bottom line, the first horizontal line represents the F note followed by, D, B, G and then E. The spaces formed by the horizontal lines represent a different note, from top to bottom, note E, C, A and then F. The spaces in between the vertical lines are called measures and contain notes such as the treble clef (higher notes) or bass clef (lower notes). A treble clef is symbolized on sheet music as a fancy looking ampersand (the “&” symbol). The bass clef is pictured as a backwards letter c with two dots on each end. So if one measure contains a treble clef then the sheet indicates that the higher notes are to be played.
- How notes appear. Notes are actually divided up into fractions, which is basically a fraction of a measure. The fraction of a measure determines how long the note needs to be played according to the song. Notes on the music sheet have a different symbol based on the length. For example, a whole note is drawn as an open circle. If a whole note is found on the music sheet, it indicates that the particular note must be held down for the whole measure. A half note is denoted as a circle with a vertical line drawn at either the left or right side. The vertical line can be drawn going up or down. A quarter note is much like the half note except for the fact that it has the middle of the circle filled in. The eighth notes are portrayed as a quarter note with a horizontal line, or a flag, drawn at the end of the note’s vertical line. Should your sheet music contain notes with multiple flags, it is an indication that the note is divided into a smaller fraction, for example a note with 2 flags is a sixteenth note. Occasionally you will find that notes are combined together to form some different notes. Don’t be confused. Divide the combined notes up based on the number of circles to know what the note is and its length.
- Getting additional help. Reading sheet music isn’t as difficult if you know what each symbol indicates. If you happen to run into a symbol that you aren’t quite familiar with ask a friend or your music teacher for additional help.