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A Basic Guide To Musical Notation

Updated on March 19, 2016

Note symbols and values. Here is a Semibreve (whole note), Minim (half note), Crotchet (quarter note), Quaver (eighth note) and Semi-quaver (sixteenth note).

As you can see above, all notes (on the left) have a note head (the circle at the bottom of the note which is either colored black for the crotchet, quaver, semiquaver and demi-semiquaver or left white for the minims and semibreves). The stem (stick above the note head) determines how long the note should be played for and can also appear inverted (below the note head) to make reading the music easier. In the case of quavers, semiquavers and demi-semiquavers, when more than one of these notes is played one after the other, the notes can be grouped together by adding a beam across the top of the stem (see above).

This symbol is a bass clef

This symbol is a treble clef and the 5 lines on which it occurs is called the stave

Here are the notes of the treble and bass cleffs

Here are four easy rhymes to help you to remember the notes of the treble and bass clefs

Being able to read music very fast, knowing instantly which note needs to be sounded and when is one the trickiest aspects of being a musician. In the early stages there are some rhymes that you can use to help you remember the notes of each clef. For the spaces in the treble clef, there is a 'face' in the space. This is because from bottom to top, the notes between the lines read 'F'-'A'-'C'-'E'. The rhyme for the notes on the lines of this cleff is 'Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit'. This is because the notes from bottom to top read 'E'-'G'-'B'-'D'-'F'. As for the bass clef, the notes with the spaces make up the rhyme 'All Cows Eat Grass' because they read 'A'-'C'-'E'-'G' from bottom to top. Finally, the notes that are on the lines in the bass clef can be remembered by using the rhyme 'Good Boys Deserve Food Always' as they read 'G'-'B'-'D'-'F'-'A'.

Here is an image of the rhymes to help you visualize and remember them

Time signatures and meter basics

All time signatures can be classified in to meters. Depending on how many beats per measure, the meter may be described as duple, triple or quadruple meter. Whenever each of these meters appear with the word 'simple' in front, this means that each of the beats can be broken in to two notes. For example, the time signature 2/4 can be called simple duple meter. It is 'duple' because there are 2 beats per measure and it is 'simple' because each crotchet can be converted in to two quavers. Beats that are in 'compound' meter are divided in to three unlike 'simple' where the beats are divided in to two.

D flat major key signature

Key Signatures

A key signature is a group of all of the accidentals (sharps-# and flats-b) that are found in a scale and it is notated right at the beginning of the score. The purpose of writing a key signature is to save writing all of the accidentals in the music and it also allows you to have an idea of what key the piece is in. As an example we can look at the key signature of Db major. Db major consists of five flats including 'B', 'E', 'A', 'D' and 'G' flat. This key signature would be notated in the way that this image demonstrates.

Here are a few key musical terms with there meanings.

Adagio- Very slow.

Allegro- Quick.

Andante- Rather slow.

Brillante- Brilliant, impressive.

Cantabile- Graceful.

Dolce- Sweet and soft.

Espressivo- With expression.

Forte- Loud.

Grave- Solemn.

Largo- Stately and slow.

Lento- Slow time.

Legato- Smoothly.

Moderato- Moderate time

Prestissimo- Quickly as possible.

Pianissimo- Very Softly.

Rallentando (rall)- Gradually slower.

Staccato- Short, detatched.

(<)Crescendo (cresc)- Gradually louder.

(>)Diminuendo (dim)- Gradually softer.

Here is a very highly rated book which I own and find very useful as it contains lots of detailed information about music theory


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    • AlexJ123 profile image

      Alex 2 years ago from Stoke-On-Trent

      Hi MsDora, thanks and you're welcome.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Great revision lesson for me. I'm sure that beginners will also find it useful. Thank you.