How to Read Music and Rhythm in 10 Minutes for Beginners

© 2004, 2009 by Daniel Carter. All rights reserved. Copying or reproducing any portion of this article without permission is illegal and will be prosecuted.

Yes, you can get the basics of how to read music in 10 minutes, but of course becoming a skilled sight reader is going to take very consistent practice. But if you spend 10 to 20 minutes a day increasing your skills, you'll make progress very fast in just a few months.

This information is a primer level. It's useful to any budding musician, singer or instrumentalist. It's meant to stimulate your interest and desire. This little tutorial will hopefully make you want to know more and perhaps enroll in lessons, or invest in other teach-yourself books available from music sellers.

There are three components in this primer course:

• Tapping your foot

• Clapping your hands

• Speaking the rhythms

This physical activity gets your senses involved, which helps solidify these principles as useful tools. You'll need to read all the information slowly enough that you understand all of it. Make sure you are able to completely focus on these exercises.

Ready? Here we go!

1. Rhythm

Rhythm is the length of time a note is sung or played. The following illustration will help in better understanding how different note values are related to each other.

This relationship between notes means that—

• Half notes will be played twice as fast as whole notes.

• Quarter notes will be played twice as fast as half notes.

• Eighth notes will be played twice as fast as quarter notes.

• Sixteenth notes will be played twice as fast as eighth notes.

Beat and Rhythm

Start by tapping your foot on the floor to a slow, steady beat. (Foot tapping = the underlying pulse which we call beat.) Now think in your mind, "1, 2, 3, 4," repeating.


Now, we will clap quarter notes and eighth notes:

1. For each foot tap, clap one time. Each clap represents quarter notes. Now do it again and say with each clap, "one, two, three, four." (And your foot taps match your clapping and speaking.)

2. For each foot tap clap twice as fast while the foot tap remains the same. This represents eighth notes. Now do it again and say with each clap, "one-and, two-and, three-and, four-and." (While your foot tapping remains the same, keeping the beat.)

As soon as you understand and are comfortable with the exercise above, move on to —

Clap half notes and whole notes:

Start by foot tapping a steady beat as before, thinking again "1, 2, 3, 4," repeating.

1. Tap your foot as before ("1, 2, 3, 4"), but clap your hands only on beats "1" and "3". These are half notes. Now do it again but this time only speak when you clap on beats one and three, like this: "one, three."

2. For each foot tap, clap your hands only on beat "1". These are whole notes. Now do it again but this time only speak when you clap on beat one (while your foot continues to tap out four beats), like this:

As soon as you understand and are comfortable with the exercise above, move on to —

Clap sixteenth notes:

Start by foot tapping slowly (quite a bit slower than before), thinking again "1, 2, 3, 4," repeating.

1. For each foot tap, clap your hands 4 times on beat "1" then on beat "2", then on beat "3", and then on beat "4". These are sixteenth notes. You might think in your mind, "one-ee-and-uh, two-ee-and-uh..." and so forth as you clap.

What We Have Learned So Far

If quarter notes get one count then—

• Each foot tap and hand clap will occur together which would equal quarter notes.

• Each clap twice as fast as quarter notes would equal eighth notes.

• Each clap half as fast as the foot taps would equal half notes.

• Each clap one quarter as fast as foot taps would equal whole notes.

• Each clap four times as fast as quarter notes would equal sixteenth notes.

2. Time Signatures

Time signatures indicate two things:

1. How many beats or counts will be in a measure or bar of music.

3. Counting the Rhythm

So far, beat has been indicated by steady foot tapping.  Rhythm has been indicated by hand clapping and speaking by counting the rhythm out loud. Sometimes the beat can be the same as the rhythm. But most of the time the rhythm is different than the beat. And so learning to count and clap the rhythm while keeping a steady beat (foot tapping) will help you get more comfortable with different rhythms.


So to summarize, below is an example of beat and rhythm being the same.

The next two examples are where the rhythm is different than the steady beat:

The next example is also a different rhythm than the steady beat. Practice it until it becomes easy to perform.

3. Intervals and Pitch

An interval is the distance from one note to another. To determine the interval of two notes, count the lines and spaces from the first note to the second. In the example below, count the number of lines and spaces from middle C up to the note F. (Count the line that middle C is on as “one.”)

There are two lines and two spaces, including the space the F is on, making this an interval of a fourth.

Take a moment and determine what each of the intervals is in the examples below.

Answers to the intervals above: 1. second, 2. third, 3. sixth, 4. seventh

The relationship between intervals and scales

A scale is a succession of eight notes in stepwise motion up and down.

Notice that the numbers one and eight are the same note name, but are an octave (eight notes) apart.  


If some of the notes in the scale were left out, the intervals would change from stepwise to skipping motion.  

For example:


Compare this example with the one above and notice that the numbers assigned to the note names did not change. The notes have the same numbers as they did in the one above, but notes 2, 4, 6, and 7 were simply eliminated.

4. Reading pitch names

There is a wealth of information on methods for learning to read the names of pitches. In the example above are the pitch names for the C major scale in the treble clef. Below are the pitch names for both treble and bass clefs.

5. In Summary, A Song to Help Remember

Below is a little song that will help you remember all the interval names, as well as help you remember beat and rhythm.

Additional Resources

Kevin Meixner has a great website for those needing great tutorials for learning to read music. Here is the link to the website. Lots of great resources there!

Other related articles about music and music publishing include: "How to Publish Your Own Sheet Music", "Do I Have Perfect (Absolute) or Relative Pitch?", "How to Get Sheet Music Published with Publishers," "How to Write Parts for a Transposing Instrument," "How to Play Piano with a Missing Finger, Like Me!" (humor), and "Another Christmas Carol".

Here is a great article to learn how chords are put together. This is great information for guitarists, keyboard players and performers of all kinds, and written by a professional studio musician.

Here is complete list of articles and topics by Daniel Carter.

More by this Author


Comments 65 comments

livingsta profile image

livingsta 6 years ago from United Kingdom

That was a fantastic hub Mr Carter, short and well explained. Gives a basic idea to anyone about the music notes.


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

Wow! Thanks very much. I used to teach this method to large groups of people in seminars and classes. It seemed to work well.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks

Daniel, this looks like a very handy reference. My daughter has been taking music lessons for almost a year now, but her sight reading leaves much to be desired. I'll see if I can get her to look at this!


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

Oh good! I've bookmarked this and will refer back to it. This winter is supposed to be the coldest ever - if you believe the Farmer's Almanac - so I'll settle down and practice.

Thanks for this hub!


Jessica Horn profile image

Jessica Horn 6 years ago

Thanks for sharing! My nephew is learning piano & I'm going to share this with him.

(Although I didn't take piano, I didn't see any reference to "Every Good Boy Does Fine" ;-)


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

Thanks, Aya, Bk and Jessica. You're right, Jessica, "Every Good Boy Does Fine" isn't in this primer. I focused on the whole scale, and couldn't think of a good sentence for C, D, E, F, G, A, B...etc. LOL If you think of one, let me know!


mith_moral 6 years ago

Thanks for this informative hub! I'm learning how to play an acoustic guitar, so this will come in handy.


Febfifth profile image

Febfifth 6 years ago from LAS VEGAS

Hey Daniel, I loved this Hub! Outstanding as usual!


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

Thanks, mith_moral, and Febfifth!!


gamerjon profile image

gamerjon 6 years ago

Thanks for this great hub, I find the information really handy.


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

Thanks for stopping by, gamerjon!


Robert Ballard 6 years ago

Great lessons and your right a5-20 minutes per day to gain the skills for sight reading.

Robert Elias Ballard


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

Thanks for stopping by, Robert!


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India

I really wish I had someone like you for a music teacher when I was growing up. All I remember was getting rapped on the knuckles everytime I was caught daydreaming! That's a great hub - clear, simple, easy to grasp!


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

What a nice compliment, Shalini! Thanks so much for stopping and reading!


rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay

very nice, Daniel. both of my sons are musicians, I play some piano and this is so helpful for anyone who listens to music.

I used to teach the pre-k children the different notes and how to count out beats with clapping and rhythm sticks, they loved it. great job!


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

Thanks, very much, rebekahELLE!


StuartH 6 years ago

Most of this is standard of course, especially the good advice to practice, but that song of intervals is new to me. When I've learned it, will become VERY useful.

Meanwhile, not that I've ever had any trouble with the names of the full scale:

Chocolate Does Everything For Girls And Boys

(I found this site while looking for a bagel recipe. Can you tell?)


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

Exactly right, Stuart. It is standard. The thing that makes it work is that this can be taught very quickly to big groups of people who know little or nothing about music. I decided to post it because it gives people a great start.

Thanks for reading.


TicksProfessional profile image

TicksProfessional 6 years ago from Lucknow India

I don't know much about music and those notes always seem mysterious to me. That's why I enjoyed reading...well written and quite informative, it is a great hub indeed!


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

Thanks, Ticks!


ravalyn profile image

ravalyn 6 years ago

NICE


Lowell's Notes profile image

Lowell's Notes 6 years ago

I like your approach to this. :)


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

Thanks, Lowell. I linked your chords hub to this one!


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors

Brilliant! You've covered about the first three years of music instruction for most elementary level band students here. I especially like your graphics. Bravo!


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

Thanks so much for stopping by, wannabwestern!


r2moo2 profile image

r2moo2 6 years ago from Singapore

It's a long while since I have seen notes. Will need to revisit this hub a few times to get used to it. Lol


zadrobi profile image

zadrobi 6 years ago from Carbondale, IL

As a fellow musician (I'm guessing you play piano?) I think you did a good job with this, DC. (An extremely generic post, I know-- I wanted to say it anyway)


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

Compliment received and very appreciated! Thanks for stopping by, fellow musician. Yes, btw, I'm a 9.5 fingered pianist. Not a great performer, but I do fine with composing and conducting. Thanks again!


QuirkyPearl profile image

QuirkyPearl 6 years ago from England - UK

I am a beginner learning the piano so I have bookmarked this page, thanks.


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

Very nice! Remember after all the work you put into it, that you take time to *play* the piano also. Thanks for stopping by!


QuirkyPearl profile image

QuirkyPearl 6 years ago from England - UK

Oh I wish I had a piano, it's a keyboard I practise on... Piano, I hope so one day


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

hi, this is very very informative! I bookmarked this one and I let my two teen ager nieces read it too.


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

So glad it's helpful to you all! Thanks for stopping by!


beth811 profile image

beth811 6 years ago from Philippines

I like this hub, very informative! I will show this to my daughter who begins to have an interest on music.


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

Thanks! Hopefully this will be a good reference for her.


wrenfrost56 profile image

wrenfrost56 6 years ago from U.K.

Great hub, everything you need to know and easy to follow. I may just get the hang of reading music after all, it's taken me a while. Thank's for this, it is very useful.


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

My pleasure! Glad you liked it and it's useful!


Dao Hoa profile image

Dao Hoa 6 years ago

Now it is clear to me. I only know do, re, mi, fa, sol, la,si, do. Then when my children had music lessons, they had A, B, C, D, E, F, G. I didn't know where to begin. Thanks for writing this hub. I can go back and read their music books now.


paulo 6 years ago

Bookmarked...thanks


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

I've actually worked in both systems--tonic solfa and note names. I can see why the confusion unless you have some familiarity with the other. Glad this helped clear up some of that! Thanks for stopping by Dao Hoa and paulo.


Don W profile image

Don W 6 years ago

Nice introduction to music theory. Takes me back to my music theory exams. Learning about semibrieves, minims, quavers, semi quavers, semidemi quavers and hemidemisemi quavers. Think the U.S. naming of notes makes much more sense.


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

It does seem simpler to me as well. I remember while I was in England over 30 years ago being fascinated with the differences between our systems. Thanks for reading, Don.


Max Walker 6 years ago

Thanks for commenting on my site and letting me know about the info, Dan! I've posted it back on my site now for others to find, too.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

I learn much about music by reading this hub. thanks


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

I'm glad you found it useful, prasetio30. I developed this material for large groups and classrooms and it seems to work well.


FridgeWheeL profile image

FridgeWheeL 6 years ago from Pretoria South Africa

Aaaah, the horror!!! :P i play music by ear and tried a couple of times to learn how to read notes etc. but always stumble along the way :( If i see notes i wana run away :P .. arg, never the less this is an awesome hub, maybe someday if i have enough guts I will return to this hub and take it from there! thnx!


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

I understand you're feelings, FridgeWheeL. It really wasn't until college that I was able to write out my own music. I'm fluent in doing that now, but still am not a great sight reader!!! However, the thing that's help most is to start sight reading very simple music and sight read for 15 minutes a day. Increase steadily with difficulty level. It won't be long until your comfort level really increases


Cathi Sutton profile image

Cathi Sutton 6 years ago

Very good Hub with great charts! Thanks!


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 6 years ago from Western US Author

Thanks for stopping by, Cathi!


stratocarter profile image

stratocarter 6 years ago

Great easy-to-understand writing!


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

I appreciate all the work you put into this excellent hub. Wonderful for beginning musicians as well as a good review for those who have had training.


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 5 years ago from Western US Author

Thanks, stratocarter and vocalcoach!


Walter 4 years ago

Thanks


sweetguide profile image

sweetguide 4 years ago from River side

Great lessons. Great hub


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 4 years ago from Western US Author

Thanks, sweetguide. Thanks for stopping by!


Peter Ambundo 4 years ago

i have been appointed to be a choir trainer and i hope more of this will help me. i am a choir member.


great 4 years ago

great


music_school 4 years ago

umm.Ithink you're lessons are great and easy for the beginners.I teach for the highest level.If you're teacher than you should do the highest level page too so they can work on web site too.Have an wonderful day.


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 4 years ago from Western US Author

Thanks for your suggestion, music_school. I'll consider it.


Lilly 2 years ago

I can't say it is a good sentence but I used to say Come Dance Edward For Good And Bad

Thank you so much for this page, I work with children 5-10 and this has helped me help them so much!


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 2 years ago from Western US Author

Thanks for dropping by, Lilly! Sometimes the most unusually phrases or sentences are the most memorable, so you may be on to something that really works!


KAH 2 years ago

Very informative and useful!


Jennifer 10 months ago

How would I get permission to copy this for a non-paid workshop I am doing for youth to teach them basic music? Thank you.


Daniel Carter profile image

Daniel Carter 10 months ago from Western US Author

Jennifer, you are welcome to copy the article for nonprofit use as long as the link to the article appears plainly on each copy made. I hope this helps.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working