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How to Read Guitar Music for Beginners (Part 1)

Updated on September 16, 2012

Learning how to read guitar music is cool! Whether you're a beginner or pro following lessons 1 through 4 of How to Read Guitar Music for Beginners will give you the necessary chops to understand more advanced levels of learning how to read guitar music.

The Treble Clef

Instruments have different ranges. The guitar has a different range from say a trumpet or a French horn. Some instruments need different starting points on the staff to effectively express their full potential. The Clef is a musical notation that expresses that. It establishes a reference point that indicates the pitches of the notes that follow it and precede it.

The Guitar uses the Treble Clef or G-Clef (Fig. 1) In this case the second ledger line from the bottom, the one almost completely surrounded by the lower section of the Treble Clef symbol is the note G. This sets the beginning point from which all other tones are referenced. See The Staff and Ledger Lines for a further discussion of the note names of the lines and spaces.

Fig. 1


Everything in music has to be nice and even. How is this done? Well, a musical composition can be different lengths. The length is determined by how many measures or bars it contains and also how many times the total number of measures is repeated. A measure (Fig. 2) is a rectangular box consisting of 5 lines and four spaces. Bar lines separate each measure.

Fig. 2

Time Signature

The total duration of time for each measure plus which note has a value of one beat is defined by the Time Signature . Each measure contains musical notes whose durations must equal the amount of beats stated by the top number of the Time Signature. See Note Duration.

The bottom number specifies what specific note value gets one beat. So in Fig. 3 there would be four beats to a measure and a quarter note would get one beat.

Fig. 3

Some other common time signatures are 3/4, 6/8. When using 3/4 time there would be three notes to a measure or bar and a quarter note would get one beat. If 6/8 time were used there would be six beats to a bar and an eight note would get one beat.

Different Time Signatures give you different kinds of feel. 4/4 has a straight type of feel while 3/4 has a waltz feel. The accent is on the first beat: ONE two three, ONE two three.

The Staff and Ledger Lines

The Staff is a way of organizing a set of five horizontal lines and the four spaces between them on which the musical notes are written. The ledger lines and spaces (Fig. 4) are used to denote which tones are to be played on the guitar. The lines and spaces are read from bottom to top.

Fig. 4

The lowest line being the note E followed by: G B D F successively.

The lowest space being the note F followed by: A C E successively.

Every Good Boy Does Fine can be used as an aid to help you remember the note names of the ledger lines and the word FACE will do the same for the spaces.

Ledger lines can extend beyond and below the original five lines. Each of these lines or spaces will also have a note name assigned to it. To better explain this let me introduce you to the musical alphabet.

The Musical Alphabet

The musical alphabet begins with the letter A and ends with the letter G. It has only seven letters and then it repeats itself:


It sounds a little strange, but if you think of it as climbing a ladder which has eight rungs where the first rung is named A and the next rung is named B and so forth in succession C D E F and G and then took the eighth step you will have reached A again but this time on a higher level. Because the first A is eight rungs lower than the second A the distance between them is called an Octave which means that the two notes are eight tones apart in pitch. It’s still the same tone but it sounds higher.

Fig. 5

The reason there are 15 notes and not sixteen (two octaves: 8 x 2 = 16) is because the middle C is counted as the last note of the preceding octave and the first note of the next octave.

Looking at Fig. 5 we see a string of quarter notes that begin on a low C and continue to climb two full octaves to arrive at the final high C. If you remember from the Staff and Ledger Lines section when using the treble clef the lowest ledger line represents the note E. If there are notes below and/or above the ledger lines, spaces and lines are added to the staff to accommodate the new pitches.

The staff alternates between lines and spaces. Using the musical alphabet and counting each line and space backwards from E we would get the note D. D would be represented by the space below the E ledger line. The note preceding the D is C. Because of the alternating nature of the staff the C note will fall on a ledger line. This same process works in both directions either above or below the staff.

Instead of adding a ledger line the entire length of the staff we add a small line through the center of the oval shape that defines the note quality which makes it easier to read and understand. This is true no matter what note quality is used, that is, whole, half, quarter, eight, or sixteenth notes etc.

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    • profile image

      MundaneMondays 4 years ago

      is that hard to do ?

    • profile image

      MundaneMondays 4 years ago

      play the guitar that is

    • Wickramshingle profile image

      Wickramshingle 4 years ago from East Coast


      If you're asking me if it's hard to learn to play the guitar then it's no more difficult than anything else. What you learn and how quickly you learn is dependent upon how much desire you have toward learning what you want and the level you want to reach. In the beginning if you practice 1 to 2 hours a day that's fine. The technique will come after practice but it is also important to understand what you're doing. Even if your technique is not as good as it should be but you understand the theory behind what you're doing you will sound and play better.

      I hope I've answered you question anything else I can help you with please let me know.

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