How to write a sharp note in a staff? It’s really simple: just put the sharp sign (#) before the note.
For example, this is an F#:
And this is a D#:
For a flat note, just write the flat sign (b) before the note:
This is a Gb:
And this is an Eb:
Important is that this sharp or flat sign is only valid from the moment the sign is displayed till the end of the measure you’re in. In the next example, I’ll explain this in more detail (btw, the staff is in treble clef):
The notes in the first measure are: F# G A F#. So, the last note in the first measure is an F#, not an F. The notes in the second measure are: F G A F. The sharp sign from the first measure is not anymore valid in the second measure.
But what if I wanted to have F# G A F in the first measure? In that case, we have the natural sign, that cancels the sharp sign before the first note:
The same rule applies to flat notes. The flat sign is only valid within the measure where it is used. If we want to cancel the flat sign for a certain note in the same measure, you can apply the same natural sign as with the sharp notes.
Have a look at the next melody, which is in the key of F major:
You see that the melody has one flat note, the Bb. That’s normal, since F major has a flat note in its scale, the Bb!
You would expect this Bb to occur even more often in the melody. And that’s exactly what happens, have a look at the next line in this song:
When I would display also the rest of the song, you would see even more B flats appear.
Wouldn’t it be much easier to say at the beginning of the song that every B should be seen as a Bb? Well, that’s exactly what is normally done. We put the flat sign in the beginning, between the clef and the time signature. Now, the same song can be displayed as follows:
Note that not only B’s that are on the 3rd line of the staff become Bb’s. All the B’s become Bb’s, so also this one.
Sharps and flats that are displayed between the clef and the time signature, are called the key signature.
The key signature corresponds with the major or minor key the song is in. When a song is in G major, which, as you know, has only one sharp (the F#), the key signature looks as:
Now, the same key signature also applies to E minor, since E minor is the relative minor of G major. So, every key signature can be used for a major key and its relative minor key.
We can display the key signatures for all major and minor keys in the circle of fifths. This gives us a nice and quick overview of all the sharps and flats in the major and minor keys:
Now that you know about sharps, flats and key signatures, check your knowledge with the quiz that is accesible via the link below:
Please let us know if this lesson helped you in learning about sharps, flats and key signatures by leaving a comment below.
Musical notes on a staff are grouped in measures, or also called bars (I will use both terms in this lesson). How many beats in a bar there are? Well, that depends on the time signature, as we will see soon.
You can often hear musicians that play together count 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 before the song starts. What they are counting, are actually the beats in a measure. Most songs have 4 beats in a bar. You can count 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – … during the whole song (when the time signature doesn’t change during the song).
Another common type of songs has 3 beats in a measure. A waltz is an example of a piece with 3 beats per measure.
Those two types (4 beats in a bar and 3 beats in a bar) are most common, but other numbers of beats in a bar are also possible.
Let’s again have a look at songs that have 4 beats in a measure. You remember probably that a quarter note has a duration of exactly one beat. So that means that instead of saying 4 beats per measure, you could also say: 4 quarter notes per measure. A piece of music that has 4 quarter notes per measure is called a piece in 4 quarter time. Or, you can also say: the time signature is 4 quarter.
In sheet music, in the beginning of a piece, we write this as follows (after the treble or bass clef):
Since 4 quarter is the most common time signature, it’s also very often written as follows:
Now, 4 quarter notes per bar doesn’t mean that you can only have quarter notes. It means that all the note durations of the notes in one bar added together make 4 beats. For example, 1 bar can consist of one whole note, or 2 half notes, or a half note with 2 quarter notes. One bar can have 8 eighth notes, or 4 eighth notes and 2 quarter notes, etcetera, as long as the total duration is that of 4 beats.
Let me give an example of 4 quarter time music. In the next staff, 2 bars of a little musical line are written out. Note that the bars are separated by vertical lines.
For a good understanding of the music, it’s important to know on which beat the notes in a song are. To know this, you can count 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 etcetera during the whole song. In the next sound sample, you will hear the musical line written in the staff above. The metronome will count to 4 before the song starts. Count 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 with the metronome and pay attention which notes in the staff are exactly on beat 1, beat 2, etcetera.
When you do it well, you should come up with the following:
We already know how many beats in a bar the 3 quarter time signature has: that’s 3 beats, or 3 quarter notes. But any other combination of note lengths can be made that add up to 3 quarter notes, of course. So, 1 quarter note plus 4 eighth notes, or 2 quarter notes and 2 eighth notes, etcetera.
The symbol for the 3 quarter time signature that has to be placed in the beginning of the staff is:
Here’s the first line of “Amazing grace”, which is in 3 quarter time:
You might notice a strange thing: the first measure only has 1 quarter note, when it should be 3! This happens quite often in the beginning of a song: the song actually starts on beat 3 instead of on beat 1. We call this first measure with only one quarter note a pickup, or more oficially, an anacrusis.
Below, you can listen to a sound sample of the first line of Amazing grace. The metronome begins by counting to 3 (because it’s 3 quarter time), then it starts again to 3. The pickup note (the G) is then played on beat 3. So, this means that you will hear the metronome count 5 times before the first note plays.
There are many other time signatures, sometimes very exotic ones, like for example 11 eighth. I will not talk about those very complicated time signatures, but let me introduce you 2 more or less common ones.
In a 6 eighth time signature, you can have 6 eighth notes per bar.
How many beats in a bar is that? Well, that’s 6 beats, because every beat in a 6 eighth time signature goes with an eighth note. Now, this might be confusing for you, because in my lesson about note durations I told that a quarter note was exactly one beat… Well, this is true for all the ‘quarter time signatures’, like 3 quarter and 4 quarter. In ‘eighth time signatures’ (like 3 eighth or 6 eighth), every eighth note is exactly one beat.
In fact, the ‘8’ in 6 eighth means that every beat corresponds to an eighth note. The ‘6’ in a 6 eighth time means that you have 6 of those eighth notes in a measure.
An example of a 6 eighth time is “Norwegian wood” from the Beatles. Here’s the first line:
Now, compare this line with the sound sample of the first line of Norwegian wood:
You might ask: “What’s the difference between 3 quarter and 6 eighth? You could very well have 6 eighth notes in a 3 quarter time piece!
The difference is: which beats are accentuated?
When you have 6 eighth notes in a 3 quarter time piece, you actually have 3 times 2 eighth notes. You could count like: ‘1 and 2 and 3 and’ for the 6 notes. The accents are on beat 1, 2 and 3.
When you have 6 eighth notes in a 6 eighth time piece, beats 1 and 4 are accentuated, so there are 2 groups of 3 eighth notes in a bar. You can then count as follows: ‘1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6′.
One of the most famous pieces in 5 quarter time is “Take five” by Dave Brubeck. How many beats in a bar has a piece in 5 quarter time? Well, 5 of course: 5 quarter notes.
Below, you can listen to “Take five” (see if you can count with the song: 1-2-3-4-5 1-2-3-4-5 etc):
I hope this lesson helped you to learn about bars and beats. Please tell us what you think of it in the comments below.
When you’ve seen my lesson about treble clef notes, you know how to find all the notes on the staff with a treble clef, especially if you remember the trick how to memorize them (the FACE-notes). To easily find all bass clef notes, we also have a little trick. Keep reading to find out how to find all bass clef notes.
The bass clef is mainly for notes from middle C and lower. So this is for the left hand on the piano. This is, however, not a rule. You can display notes on a bass clef that are higher than middle C. And sometimes, but not often, notes on the bass clef are played with the right hand.
To indicate that the staff we’re reading is in bass clef, we use the next bass clef symbol at the beginning of the staff:
On the next staff, you can see all bass clef notes on and in between the 5 lines of the staff:
The highest note, the A on the upper line of the staff, is the A just under the middle C, so a minor 3rd under the middle C.
As I promised you, there’s also a trick to easily remember all bass clef notes. When I display only the notes in between the lines of the staff, we get:
At first sight, those notes A, C, E and G don’t make up a nice word as was the case with the FACE-notes in the treble key. But, the letters of those bass notes form the first letters of the sentence “ALL COWS EAT GRASS”.
With this trick, it’s easy to remember the bass notes in between the lines of the staff. The other notes are then easy to find from those 4 notes.
As with the treble clef, we can add ledger lines to the staff. When you don’t remember how they work, have a look at the treble clef lesson.
Can you see which note is displayed here?
It’s a (very low) B!
And this one?
Well, this is an important one to remember: it’s the middle C!
The middle C is on the first ledger line above the bass clef staff. Remember that the middle C is also on the first ledger line under the treble clef staff.
In sheet music for piano, you find the treble clef (generally for the right hand) and the bass clef (generally for the left hand) displayed together as in the figure above.
Now that you learned how to read notes on the bass clef, be sure to practice this regularly. The exercise that is accesible via the link below is ideal for this purpose.
Please tell us what you think of this lesson (for example what did you think of the trick to remember the bass clef notes?) by leaving a comment below.
Music generally doesn’t only consist of a long stream of only notes. Music also needs some rests. How do we write rests?
As with notes, rests have durations, you can have short rests and longer rests.
The equivalents of the whole note, half note and quarter note are the whole rest, the half rest and the quarter rest.
The whole rest has, like the whole tone, a duration of 4 beats.
In the staff, you can write a whole rest as follows:
The half rest has, like the half tone, a duration of 2 beats.
You can write the half rest as follows:
And, as you might have guessed already, the quarter rest has a duration of 1 beat.
Here, you can see the quarter rest in a staff:
The eighth rest, with a duration of a half beat, can be written as follows:
And, you might not be surprised when I tell you that the sixteenth rest, with duration of a quarter beat, can be written as the eighth rest with an extra flag (see below). Like was the case with the sixteenth note.
By adding more flags, we can make thirty-second rests and sixty-fourth rests (see below). Those very short rests are not often used.
To give you an idea of rests in music, listen to the examples below and compare them with their corresponding staffs. All the sound samples start with a metronome that counts 4 beats before the rhythm on the staff begins.
I will start with simple examples, and then make them gradually more difficult.
The first example uses whole rests and notes and half rests and notes:
The second example has also half and quarter rests and notes:
And now also with eighth rests and notes:
At this point, it’s a good time to combine different note and rest durations with different notes on the treble clef. Let’s again start with a simple example and again gradually increase the level of difficulty.
Perhaps that this last example was a bit difficult to follow. In the video below, I explain exactly how you can deal with difficult rhythms that you can come across when reading sheet music.
This 7 minute video is an extract from a video in my online piano course “How to play the piano or keyboard from scratch“. It explains how to play notes that are not exactly on the beat, but in between two beats. This is illustrated with the verse and chorus of the song ‘Let it be’ from the Beatles.
In the video, you will see measures (or bars), a 4 quarter time signature, and a pickup in the beginning of the chorus and the verse. You don’t need to know what this all is to be able to follow the video.
To fully master rests and notes, it’s important to practice regularly. Be sure to do the exercise in the link below.
Did you appreciate this lesson? What do you think of the video? Please leave a comment below and let us know.
Note lengths are important in music: a note can be played (very) short, (very) long and everything in between.
You can measure note lengths in number of beats; but this can also be in fractions of a beat.
But, what is exactly a beat?
A beat could be defined as the basic rhythmic unit in music.
When you clap your hands or tap your toes when you listen to a piece of music, you do that normally on every beat.
Some basic note lengths (or note values) are the whole note, the half note and the quarter note. You can see them displayed in the staff below.
The whole note has a duration of 4 beats. In 4/4 time, this corresponds to a whole measure, from where ‘whole note’ has its name. The duration of a half tone is half of that of a whole tone, so 2 beats. And, logically, a quarter note has a duration of 1 beat.
Listen to a sound sample of the whole note, half note and 2 quarter notes as in the staff above. The metronome clicks every beat. You will hear the metronome count 4 beats before it starts.
Remark: whole note and half note have nothing to do with whole tone and half tone. The first 2 are durations, the last 2 are intervals.
The stem of a note (the little vertical bar) can be pointed upwards (as in our previous examples), but also downwards. Generally spoken, the stem is upwards for notes in the lower half of the staff, and downwards in the upper half. See the next figure for an example.
An eighth note has a duration half of that of the quarter note, which means a half beat. You can thus have two eighth notes in one beat. The note symbol for an eighth note is:
A sixteenths note is again half as long as an eighth note. You can have 4 sixteenths notes in one beat.
The note symbol for a sixteenth note is:
When 2 or more eighths or sixteenths notes are played after each other, you can make beamed notes as follows:
Combinations are also possible:
Look at the next combination of quarter notes, eighth notes and sixteenths notes and listen to the corresponding sound sample. The metronome starts with 4 beats before it begins.
By adding extra flags to the stem (little vertical bar on the note), we can make thirty-second notes (8 in a beat), sixty-fourth notes (16 in a beat), etcetera.
We can augment the note length by 50% by adding a dot after the note, for example:
Remark: a ¾ beat note followed by a sixteenth note (¼ beat) can be notated as beamed notes, as follows:
Example: look at the next combination of notes and listen to the corresponding sound sample. As always, the metronome starts with 4 beats before it begins.
What to do if we want a note with a duration of –let’s say- 2½ beats? We can do this by linking a half note (2 beats) and an eighth note (½ beat) together:
Make sure to master your knowledge of note lengths by doing the exercises that are available via the 2 links below:
Please let us know what you think of this lesson by leaving a comment below.
Musical notes are written on a staff. A staff consists of 5 horizontal lines where the notes can be placed. The notes on the treble clef can be on or in between the 5 horizontal lines.
The treble clef is mainly for notes from middle C and higher. So this is for the right hand on the piano. This is, however, not a rule. You can display notes on a treble clef that are lower than middle C. And sometimes, but not often, notes on the treble clef are played with the left hand.
To indicate that the staff we’re reading is in treble clef, we use the next treble clef symbol at the beginning of the staff:
As I said, the notes can be displayed on or in between the lines of the staff. The note on the lowest line is an E. This is the E which is a major 3rd higher than the middle C.
The next note, F, is displayed between the lowest 2 lines of the staff.
The G is on the 2nd line.
In this way we can go on, which gives us all the notes that can be placed on or in between the lines of the staff.
An easy way to remember the notes on the treble clef is by looking at the notes that go in between the lines: they make the word ‘FACE’.
From the ‘FACE’-notes, it’s very easy to deduce all the other notes.
As I mentioned before: the treble clef is for notes from middle C and higher. And it was even possible to display notes lower than middle C. How is this possible when the note on the lowest line is an E? Let’s first put a D on the staff. That’s still easy: just put it under the lowest line.
But how can we put the middle C? The middle C should be again on a line. But we don’t have any lines anymore. Well, you can do that with ledger lines.
A ledger line is a little horizontal line just under or above the staff that you place there where you want your note. The middle C is then displayed as follows:
You can even make the B:
For the A, we need a 2nd ledger line:
You can go on putting extra ledger lines for even lower notes. Now, the next question may arise: till how many ledger lines can you go? Well, officially, you can have as many ledger lines as you want. But, ask yourself: is it still readable? I would say that it’s still possible to read 3 or 4 ledger lines without a too big effort. But sometimes, you see even more ledger lines…
It’s also possible to put ledger lines above the staff to display higher notes. Can you see which note is displayed in the next figure?
Well, I hope you found it on your own…
If not: it’s an E!
As you might have noticed, this is not all:
And now it’s time to do some exercises. Click on the link below to test your knowledge of the notes on the treble clef.
Please tell us what you think of this lesson (and the trick to remember the treble clef notes) by leaving a comment below.