Piano Music Sheets
Part 1 of 8: The Basics
- Get a handle on the staff. Before you are ready to start learning music, you must get a sense for the basic information that virtually everyone who reads music needs to know. The horizontal lines on a piece of music make up the staff. This is the most basic of all musical symbols and the foundation for everything that is to follow.
- The staff is an arrangement of five parallel lines, and the spaces between them. Both lines and spaces are numbered for reference purposes, and are always counted from lowest (bottom of the staff) to highest (top of the staff).
- Start with the Treble Clef. One of the first things you'll encounter when reading music is the clef. This sign, which looks like a big, fancy cursive symbol at the left end of the staff, is the legend that tells you approximately what range your instrument will play in. All instruments and voices in the higher ranges use the treble clef, and for this intro to reading music, we'll focus primarily on this clef for our examples.
- The Treble Clef, or G Clef, is derived from an ornamental Latin letter G. One good way to remember this is that the line at the center of the clef's "swirl" represents the note G. When notes are added to the staff in the treble clef, they will have the following values:
- The five lines, from the bottom up, represent the following notes: E G B D F.
- The four spaces, from the bottom up, represent these notes: F A C E.
- This may seem like a lot to remember, but you can use mnemonics—or word cues—that may help you remember them. For the lines, "Every Good Boy Does Fine" is one popular mnemonic, and the spaces spell out the word "FACE." Practicing with an online note recognition tool is another great way to reinforce these associations.
- Understand the Bass Clef. The bass clef, also known as the F clef, is used for instruments in the lower registers, including the left hand of the piano, bass guitar, trombone, and so on.
- The name "F clef" derives from its origins as the Gothic letter F. The two dots on the clef lie above and below the "F" line on the staff. The staff of the bass clef represents different notes than that of the treble clef.
- The five lines, bottom to top, represent these notes: G B D F A (Good Boys Don't Fool Around).
- The four spaces, bottom to top, represent these notes: A C E G (All Cows Eat Grass).
- Learn the parts of a note. Individual note symbols are a combination of up to three basic elements: the note head, the stem, and flags.
- The note head. This is an oval shape that is either open (white) or closed (black). At its most basic, it tells the performer what note to play on their instrument.
- The stem. This is the thin vertical line that is attached to the note head. When the stem is pointing up, it joins on the right side of the note head. When the stem is pointing down, it joins the note head on the left. The direction of the stem has no effect on the note, but it makes notation easier to read and less cluttered.
- The general rule on stem direction is that at or above the center line of the staff, the stem points down, and when the note is below the middle of the staff, the stem points up.
- The flag. This is the curved stroke that is attached to the end of the stem. No matter if the stem is joined to the right or left of the note head, the flag is always drawn to the right of the stem, and never to the left.
- Taken together, the note, stem, and flag or flags show the musician the time value for any given note, as measured in beats or fractions of beats. When you listen to music, and you're tapping your foot in time to the music, you're recognizing that beat.