How To Read Music – Part 1

How To Read Music – Part 1

How To Read Music – Part 1
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By standard notation we mean ordinary written music — the kind that classical trained musicians learn to read.

Guitar tab is the first choice of guitarists, but ultimately it has its limitations. By learning at least the basics of standard notation you will find it easier to communicate musical ideas with other musicians and also it will smooth out your progress through learning the higher levels of music theory.

As a nice bonus, being able to understand standard notation means you can read melody lines out of song books which is a great help when it comes to developing cool melody based solos.

We start with five parallel lines called a staff or stave. These lines are meaningless until we place a clef at the beginning

Now originally this started out life as a letter G, but over the years it got standardised into the sign we now recognise as a treble clef.

Once we have pinpointed that line as G, the rest of the letters of the musical alphabet follow on from there alternating space/line/space/line..

And the same downwards.

Conventionally, students of music are taught to memorise the names of the notes like this:
Firstly the notes on the lines:

Every Good Boy Deserves Fortune

F A C E spells face which conveniently rhymes with Space

Look at the sharp symbols at the start of the line. Each one is positioned on either a line or a space. For example the first one is positioned on the top line. As this is where the note F belongs, this tells us that all Fs should be played as F#.

The next sharp symbol is placed on the third space up so it affects all C notes and dictates that they should be played as C# instead.

The third sharp symbol is placed just above the F line. A note in this position would be a G so this tells us to play all Gs as G#s.

Here the flat symbols are placed on the middle line affecting all B notes and dictating that they are played as B Flats. And the top space affecting all E notes and dictating that they are played as E Flats.

These are notes that arguably don’t belong to the key and are thus referred to as ‘Accidentals’.

In our example, the key signature is established at the start of the line by the two flat symbols affecting the B and E notes. But the very first B has a natural symbol — the one that looks like a sharp with one arm and one leg cut off! — The natural symbol effectively cancels out a

sharp or flat and restores the note to natural (meaning neither sharp nor flat).

One final question people normal ask at this stage — where do I find these notes on the guitar? Pretty smart question really!
Well the internationally accepted standard for tuning musical instruments defines the note A on the second space up as 440 Hz

Only problem with this is that it means that the majority of notes on the guitar would be placed so far down on the stave as to be unreadable.

So, by general agreement guitar music is written one octave higher than it actually sounds.
Here you can see the open strings placed one octave higher than they actually sound, but at least now we can read the notes more easily, because most of them are actually on the stave.

36 responses to “How To Read Music – Part 1”

  1. AxStoryxToxBexTold says:

    I’ve always learned by ear and I know where every note is on the fretboard but I have to learn to read music with guitar for my major. This helped a decent amount.

  2. Thomas subject A2 says:

    I have guitar class and I have a test on thursday I cant read music help me please im way better at trumpet….:( I just follow my class

  3. Senshin says:

    I found it quite easy to understand, it certainly cleared some issues I was having, particularly about where the notes correspond to their position on guitar.


  4. Zade spartan 109 says:

    I’m just starting to learn how to play the guitar and I have never played any instrument. I got picks and a thing to help me tune the guitar. I don’t know anything about notes and what not, are these videos going to help me learn sense I’m a beginner?  

  5. Aiah abian says:

    Thanks a lot. I really want to learn how to read notes. I know how to play a guitar but only basics. And I hope I can learn a lot from you.

  6. Dakota Kuczenski says:

    The very last bit, moving up one octave for the guitar,i see the visual chart, but could u please explain? Sorry if this seems like a dumb question, it may come to me later.

  7. Digihaven says:

    Thank you. You took your time and spoke slowly. Your a really good teacher!

  8. AZHGAMING FC says:

    Thanx helped a lot

  9. Dee Mash says:

    i dont understand the natural sign’s example…please explain

  10. MundaneNepal says:

    Thank you soo much…

  11. M Stratocaster says:


  12. Minh Nhat says:

    thx a lot !

  13. donottawaguitar says:


  14. martin davey says:

    Brilliant, just what I needed 🙂

  15. luke meleisea says:

    Finally, all those songs i want to learn that are only in this text i can finally learn.
    brick wall pushed over,

  16. Danny A. says:

    Brilliant although I picture John Cleese and I see YOU.  Now that would be a laugh.

  17. gwgwaw says:

    Wonderful, I appreciate the care put into the creation of this tutorial

  18. Rajarshi Mitter says:

    Superb lesson. Somthing i waslooking for to understand and comprehend the whole thing to myself. thank u so much 🙂

  19. paradust says:


    I have been watching your lessons and finding them very useful I have been playing for 8 or so years and am re learning how to play classically I am not doing so well in knowing which fret to start playing the note on as the stave only has 5 lines. there are 6 strings on a Guitar. meaning is it starts on a G how do I know what string and what fret to play that G on?? Any help would be greatly appreciated. “)

  20. Dylan Miah says:

    Thx you really helped me
    If anyone can answer how do you play f and b on the guitar

  21. Jack Pereira says:

    Absolutely. Legend, that’s what you are.

  22. Kima Singh says:

    *This video really helped me out thank you so much…*

  23. ShinyJess says:

    lol trying to learn music for the first time, so confusing at first. I learned some in elementary but my teacher couldn’t really teach

  24. Jacob Riefke says:

    But how do I know what strong to play that note on? Exactly where on the fretboard?

  25. TeTe Musica says:

    Yes “De-mystified” thank you. On to #2 tomorrow

  26. Enrique Cervantes says:

    Question: why was the A played on the 5th fret of the 1st string? could you have not played the note on the 5th string open which is also an A? Thanks for your help.

  27. SecretGuitarTeacher says:

    +Enrique Cervantes The A at fret five on the top string is the one that is vibrating at a frequency of 440 Hz which is the modern international benchmark for standard pitch. The A at fret two on the 3rd string is an octave lower so that would be tuned to 220 Hz and the one you ask about – the open 5th string – is tuned to 110 Hz.

  28. soumer karki says:

    Could you suggest some simple song for which I could try figuring out the standard notation, Nick?

  29. soumer karki says:

    I had another question, Nick, what is an octave?

  30. 王新宇 says:

    Your guitar courses are very good,I learn a lot from you.Thanks a lot!

  31. David G says:

    I’ve been playing guitar for 25 years and never done any theory through sheer laziness. This has to be the simplest explanation I’ve ever heard.

    Most piano teachers assume we guitarists can or should all be able to sight read without issue and every time I’ve done music theory with a pianist, they just start banging on about ‘middle C.’

    So this is really very informative. Thank you so much! Lesson 2….on y va!

  32. Robin Ruth says:

    I have sheet music for guitar with 3 groups of sixteenth notes slurred together which is hard to play on one string, is there a way to slur on multiple strings?

  33. Harold Sauer says:

    I alway say every good boy deserves fudge.

  34. Harold Sauer says:

    every good boy deserves fudge. is better

  35. Dave Rowarth says:

    Couldn’t work out the key signature described at 9:08…

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