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Learn notes in 10 minutes

If you've always wanted to learn sheet music but didn't know how to start, you've come to the right place. The following introduction will give you the basics of reading music. In order to be able to play according to notes fluently, a bit of practice is of course necessary, but the basics for learning notes are explained really quickly.

Do you have to be able to read notes to play the guitar?

Learn notes is a must for most instruments. That may be true for the piano, but if you want to learn guitar, you don't necessarily have to be able to read sheet music. Many only play the guitar as an accompanying instrument and the fingerings can be represented by fingering pictures or chords. This system is very efficient and is recommended to any budding guitarist who just wants to accompany a Christmas carol at home. He doesn't have to be able to read notes to learn the chords.

Learning notes is also not absolutely necessary for soloing. The guitar tablature is often used here. It can also be used to depict complex guitar solos and is much easier to understand than sheet music.

However, as soon as you get music from sheet music, you should be able to read sheet music. This situation inevitably comes to every musician. Even when grandma takes out the old songbook in musical notation and asks you to play the little melody there, you should be able to read music.

The grading system

The notes of the music are shown in a system with five lines, in front of which one clef stands. There are often upper and lower auxiliary lines for the lines, which expand the range of the pitch. There are different clefs that mark a certain range. For the guitar, the treble clef and bass clef (bass guitar) come into question. The treble clef (above) surrounds the G in its rounding and is therefore called the “G clef”, the bass clef (below) encloses the F with its two points, which is why it is called the F clef.
In the example you can see the C major scale over two octaves, once with treble clef and once with bass clef:

There are more clefs like the tenor and alto clefs that don't need to be of interest to you. The notes are in a different place depending on the key, as can be seen in the picture. The staves indicate the pitch in connection with the clef. The head of the note is either on a line or in a space.

The order of the individual notes is in C major: C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C

In the English-speaking world, our H is referred to as B, as in the example above. This often leads to confusion. Here Manu explains exactly what the difference is.

The structure of a note

Notes have a specific structure of their own, which indicates the pitch length regardless of their height (which is determined by the space within the staff lines, see above). This note structure, together with the metric, results in the rhythm of a piece of music. Most notes consist of a head and a neck, but there are also notes without a neck. These are so-called whole notesthat fill in a complete measure - usually a 4/4 measure - and whose head must be empty. So you would get four beats in 4/4 time. (There are exceptions for other time signatures that you don't have to learn now.) The next smaller unit would be the half note with a pointthat has an empty head and neck and receives three blows, followed by the half note (empty head and neck) with two punches and the Quarter note (filled head with neck) with one blow. If the neck is now flagged, the tone lengths become shorter and shorter:

A flag makes the note to the eighth, two flags to the 16th, etc. If several notes with flags are next to each other in a bar, the flags are usually combined into lines that connect the notes. One line replaces a flag, two lines stand for two flags, etc.

The neck of the note is drawn from the middle of the five staves down to the left of the head, one step lower (second space from the bottom) the drawing is made to the right of the neck up. There may be exceptions to this rule because of a certain clarity.


Another important element of music is metric, which is closely related to rhythm. If you want to learn notes, you should at least know: The individual note can be kept shorter or longer, which is evident from its structure (see above), several notes are metrically combined in one measure. There is, for example, a 4/4 time (many rock and pop songs, marching music), a 3/4 time (for example the waltz), but also a 3/2 time, a 3/8 time, 6 / 8-time and also very unusual time signatures like 5/8 or 7/8, which are rarely found in rock and pop, but they do exist. Bars are separated from each other with bar lines, the time signature is usually given at the beginning of the piece.

In the example a 3/8 time is shown. The note values ​​within a measure - i.e. between two bar lines - must therefore always add up to 3/8. So there are three eighth notes in the first bar, a quarter note (played as long as two eighth notes) and an eighth note in the second bar. In the third measure, the point extends the quarter note by an eighth note (a total of three eighth notes) and in the last measure we have two 16ths, four 32nds and at the end an eighth break, again the duration of three eighths.
The metric determines the emphasis on a piece. Measure one is always more emphasized than the other notes.


Accidental for the notes

Each staff can have a # (sharp) or b sign. A # raises the note by half a tone, linguistically, the name is followed by an -is. C becomes C sharp, D becomes Dis, and so on. A b lowers the note by half a tone; linguistically, the name is followed by an -es. C becomes Ces, D becomes Des. There are exceptions to this:

The accidentals can be at the beginning of the piece of music and then apply to the entire piece. It is also possible to specify them for individual notes in a measure, then they only apply to this measure.

In this example, the # at the beginning turns the F into an F sharp throughout the piece. The first note is already raised to an F sharp. The second note is raised to a C sharp by the accidental within the measure. In the second bar we have the “automatically” raised F sharp again, the C is played normally again because the bar line has canceled the increase to the C sharp. In the third measure, an F is “forced” by the natural sign, the # of the beginning of the song no longer applies to this measure. The last note is lowered by a b and is therefore a Db.

An increase can also be canceled within one measure. Then there is a natural sign in front of the next note at this height:


Example: The House of the Rising Sun

In the following the song “The House of the Rising Sun” is shown as a score:

This popular American folk song is 3/4 time and starts with one Prelude, so the first measure is not complete.
The curved lines above the notes "tie" the different notes into one. On the guitar, for example, you could play this as a slide or a bend.

The song comes in many different versions. Here is one from the 1960s:
The Animals - House of the Rising Sun

Take a closer look at the sheet music for the piece. If you understand everything, then you already know the most important things about learning grades.

Have fun learning notes!

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