How to Read Music Notation Page Two

Home

Notes and Rests

Notes and rests of the musical staff

The five basic note and rest symbols are shown in the image above. Note symbols represent sound. More precisely, they represent which note is to be played and for how long. The location of the note symbol on the staff determines which note is to be played. The time signature sets a note's value. The general values of the notes are given in the chart below.

One whole note equals two half notes. One half note equals two quarter notes. One quarter note equals two eight notes. One eighth note equals two sixteenth notes.

The bottom number of the time signature sets which note receives one beat. If the bottom number is a 4 then a quarter note receives one beat. If the bottom number is an 8 then an eighth note receives one beat.

With a 2/4 time signature each measure contains two beats and the quarter note receives one beat. This means the half note receives two beats since half notes get twice as many beats as a quarter note. See the example below. The "+" symbol is pronounced "and."

Two/four time count

With a 3/4 time signature each measure contains three beats and the quarter note receives one beat. To sustain a note an entire measure the half-note followed by a dot is used. The dot indicates the preceding note should sound one and a half times its normal beat count. Since a quarter note receives one beat and a half note is twice the beats of a quarter note, a half note receives two beats. When the dot is added the half note receives three beats.

Three/four time count

With a 4/4 time signature each measure contains four beats and the quarter note receives one beat. Since the quarter note the half note receives two beats and the whole note receives four beats.

Four/four time count

The location of a note symbol on the staff determines which note is to be played and at what pitch. The bottom line of the staff represents an E note. When a note symbol is placed on this line it indicates an E note is to be played. A note symbol placed in the space above the bottom line indicates an F note is to be played, similarly for the other lines and spaces.

Rest symbols represent silence. No notes are to be played or sustained when a rest is encountered. Like notes, rests sound for a certain number of beats determined by the time signature.

Sharps, Flats, and Naturals

Enharmonic notes are represented on the staff with sharps(#), flats(b), and natural symbols.

Sharp, flat, and natural symbols

A sharp or flat in front of a note effects all the following notes as well, even of different pitch, unless a natural symbol is encountered for that same note. See the example below.

Accidentals and music notation

There are also double sharps(x) and double flats(bb). These symbols increase or decreases a note's pitch by two half-steps.

Key Signatures

A sharp or flat placed on a line or space at the beginning of the staff, after the clef, signifies that all notes that line or space represent are to be played a half step higher or lower respectively. This series of sharps or flats is known as the key signature and signifies what key (major scale or relative minor) the music is composed in. This prevents the staff from become overpopulated with unnecessary sharp and flat symbols.

For example, the key of E major has four sharps - F#, G#, C#, and D#. Without using a key signature, a composition in E major would require 4 sharps on the staff the first time an F, G, C, or D note is played. If any of these notes are made natural (with the natural symbol) another sharp symbol will be needed to raise the pitch back in key. When a key signature is used, a natural symbol only last till the end of the line (staff), since the next line will have a key signature reassigning all the notes to be in key.

Key Signatures and Their Corresponding Scales
Signature Sharps/Flats Scale
C Major Key Signature 0 C Major
G Major Key Signature 1 Sharp G Major
D Major Key Signature 2 Sharps D Major
A Major Key Signature 3 Sharps A Major
E Major Key Signature 4 Sharps E Major
B Major Key Signature 5 Sharps (7 Flats) B Major (Cb Major)
F Sharp Major Key Signature 6 Flats (6 Sharps) Gb Major (F# Major)
D Flat Major Key Signature 5 Flats (7 Sharps) Db Major (C# Major)
A Flat Major Key Signature 4 Flats Ab Major
E Flat Major Key Signature 3 Flats Eb Major
B Flat Major Key Signature 2 Flats Bb Major
F Major Key Signature 1 Flat F Major

Page: Previous Page 1 2

Top Home