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How to read Sheet Music / Notes - A Quick Reference

     Last Updated: Jan 9, 2016
Treble and bass
clef notes:


 
Timing durations for notes:
 
Tied notes    

 

Timing durations for rests:
 
 
 The Accidentals:
 
= sharp
= flat
= natural

Understanding a few of these symbols allows you to play almost any type of sheet music.

Each black circle above represents a note to be played. The exact note to play is denoted (pun intended) by where the note appears on the bar lines (or staff). Side note: I once entered ten puns in a pun contest thinking at least one of them would win, but no pun in ten did.

Once you know the note names you just need to find that note on your instrument!

Here's where the notes are on a piano:


A 49 key keyboard.  "Middle C" is the "c" key in the middle of the keyboard. 
See more keyboard layouts.

Standard Notation sheet music is read from left to right (notes above and below each other on the same staff are played simultaneously).

Here's a simple example of sheet music played on a piano - the scale of "f" played on two octaves:


 

Even though most of the music you'll find on TabNabber is in Piano Tab notation, we can:
  
Turn a piano tab into sheet music     - and -    Turn a guitar tab into sheet music


Advanced Tips: How to Sight Read Sheet Music

Tip #1: Forget the note names:
Reading and playing sheet music by mentally converting sheet music into the note names is how many beginners learn to play music. However, advanced musicians don't need to identify all the note names as they play a piece of music. Finding the note's key on the piano is an important first step, but this would be quite a mental task for playing advanced sheet music. A faster way to read sheet music is to know that a note equals a specific key (so you don't even think about the name of the note).

Tip #2: Count intervals:
A common technique (especially with chords) is to use the vertical distance between notes as the distance to move on the piano.  Look at how far apart one note is from another and move that distance on the piano... if you work on quickly identifying intervals in sheet music and separately work on moving intervals on the piano with your hands without looking then put the two together it'll help with your sight reading.

Tip #3: Improve your sense of pitch:
While there is evidence that pitch detection is somewhat genetic, improving your perfect/absolute and relative pitch is possible and will help you be an all around better musician and should also help with sight reading. A good exercise to test your pitch sense is to sing a note and then try to play that same note on your instrument. Also checkout this site to test your tonal recognition abilities.

We'd love to add more tips here, have a good one? Leave a comment below!


Also see:    How to read piano tabs     - and -     How to read guitar tabs

 
Comments (45):
 
Anonymous
[Guest]

(10 months ago)
thanks for this!!!<a href='http://youtube.com'>u&l...

Reply

chris
[Guest]

(5 years ago)
very helpful

Reply

BA



[Admin]


(5 years ago)
@Volt - Where did you learn your manners? I do not think 32nd notes are the rare gems you think they are. Good thing we didn't put 64th notes up there, jeez. But thanks for helping out with the additional details on the legatos (or "Lagatos", as you say).

There are many aspects of sheet music that are not covered (yet) on this page as it was simply meant to be a quick reference. But maybe we'll incorporate some of these tidbits of information further up on the page, minus the 'tude.

Hey @NewbieNeedsHelp, assuming you're still looking for an answer here 2 months later :P... I recommend: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K...

Reply

Volt
[Guest]

(5 years ago)
@BA: where did you learn to read music? You can do tabs great but when it comes to teaching actual sheet music you are not that great. I mean looking up at your example you just made it more difficult for people to learn. Most piano players, especially those who look through music on this site, will never see a 32nd note. Calling it 1/32 note is just funny. Its like you learned a dead language of music.

@harryb: the example you are talking about is not a tie but a Lagato marking for piano. It means everything inside the arch of the mark, the "tie" as you call it, is actually to be played as smooth or unbroken as possible. Just like the Slur marking on a Flute or any wind/string instrument. You will not hold E through to C, you will just play EGE/C as smooth as you can.

Reply

NewbieNeedsHelp
[Guest]

(5 years ago)
How to read key signatures?

Reply

BA



[Admin]


(5 years ago)
@Akash - This page is a description of piano sheet. What don't you understand?

Reply

Akash
[Guest]

(5 years ago)
Can u give a brief description on piano sheet to understand

Reply

BA



[Admin]


(5 years ago)
@harryb - What the? I don't think I've ever seen sheet notation like that before, did you just make that example up?

If not, post a link to it and I'll make up a better answer.

Reply

harryb
[Guest]

(5 years ago)
Not much said about how to play tied notes on piano. First note E (first bar) tied to first note Middle C (seccond Bar)3/4 timing. In between these notes is G & E (first bar)/E G E/C C C/ I under stand that you play the first E and hold the count for 4 beats (I belive I understand that correctly). What do I do with the notes G & E. Do I play them at all like in a slur on a flute or what?

Reply

Wow.
[Guest]

(5 years ago)
Are you guys seriously fighting about format? Be happy for what you've got. Tabnabber is a good website. behappy for it.

Reply

jimboo
[Guest]

(5 years ago)
this was extremely helpful for mee

Reply

BA



[Admin]


(6 years ago)
@Learjeff - thanks for the feedback. You'd have to agree that A# and Bb do have the same frequencies on the piano, so for the purposes of the "sheet music for pianists" section I believe the A# is acceptable (though not traditional). Having hung up my bow and rosin long ago I cannot speak for the violin. But you make a compelling argument, and I shall look into that.

Reply

Learjeff
[Guest]

(6 years ago)
attackattackrocks is right. In any major scale, you want every letter to appear. You want to see A, Bb, C ... not A, A#, C. That's what Read Mee means.

Furthermore, A# and Bb do not have the same frequencies. On a piano, each key actually corresponds to 3 different notes, and is tuned to the geometric mean of the three. But when playing a violin and not playing in a tempered scale, they're different notes.

This is a helpful page. You might want to make it accurate as well.

Reply

BA



[Admin]


(6 years ago)
@read mee: Read this! The B key is labeled in the keyboard picture. I don't know what you mean 'where is your B key'? Where is your B key?

Reply

read mee
[Guest]

(6 years ago)
where is your B key. you have to fix that. those dummies out there may not understand it

Reply

BA



[Admin]


(6 years ago)
@attackattackrocks - Conventional wisdom is that the note should be shown as a B flat, not an A sharp. Granted the musical scholar may consider it bad "musical grammar" to use them interchangeably. But is there ever an instance where Bb does not sound exactly like A#?

A# and Bb may serve different purposes for the music scholar but music is not composed solely with the intention of impressing the academics. A-sharp and B-flat are the exact same frequency, audibly indistinguishable.

For more information on this topic or how to quickly lose interest in it, see the following: http://jtauber.com/blog/2006/1...

Reply

attackattackrocks


New Tabber
[New Recruit]


(6 years ago)
@BA It really should be B flat in the key of F...get your keys right.

Reply

beginner
[Guest]

(6 years ago)
this website helped me learn how to read the music
thanks so much!

Reply

BA



[Admin]


(6 years ago)
Yes 187.140... we DID list the note as A# and not Bb. And we did it on purpose. You got a problem with that?

Reply

Anonymous
[Guest]

(6 years ago)
The scale of F should be shown as being in the key of F Major, with a Flat indicated for B, i.e. it's not A# in the scale, but B flat.

Reply

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