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How to Read Guitar Music for Beginners (Part 4)

Updated on September 14, 2012

Well we’ve reached the last section of the How to Read Guitar Music for Beginners series. This is where you apply what you have learned by reading a simple single note melody written for guitar. It’s only 4 bars but it’s enough to get you started. You now have enough of a foundation to be able to understand more advanced examples of reading guitar music.

Reading a Single Note Melody

Any two or more tones played in succession can be considered a melody. How melodic or pleasing to the ear a melody will be is very subjective. The way a melody sounds is dependent upon a combination of different things. Harmony, musical phrasing, feeling, rhythm, repetition, and timing also affect what the listener hears. These subjects are too advanced to be addressed here but there are many good books that can introduce you to these fascinating studies. For our purposes we will discuss the basic aspects of reading a simple single note melody.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1 shows a simple melody. If we look at the first bar what do we see. Well, first we see that it is written in the treble clef and in 4/4 time that tells us that we can play this piece of music on the guitar and that there are 4 beats to a bar and a quarter note gets 1 beat. Also because there are no sharps or flats indicated we know that it is written in the key of C.

The 1st bar begins with two eight notes then a quarter note and then a half note. Adding them together it equals 4 beats. The first 2 eight notes equal 1 quarter note so that’s 1 beat. The next quarter note equals 1 beat so now we have 2 beats total and the last note is a half note which is equal to 2 quarter notes or 2 beats. So all together we have 4 beats.

Each measure has the same note values except the last measure. It has a half note, 2 beats, and half rest, a 2 beat period of silence.

Counting the Beats

When we play these notes how do we know how long to hold each note? Well you count. In 4/4 time the count is 1 and, 2 and, 3 and, 4 and. Sixteenth and smaller valued notes would be counted differently but for our purposes we will be concerned with eighth notes and above.

The and after each count is for the eighth notes which each get a 1/2 a beat. You must keep in mind that it is the quarter note that gets 1 beat. Since there are 2 eighth notes in the first measure, each being sounded for a 1/2 a beat and being equal to 1 quarter note or 1 full beat you would count 1 and while playing each note separately. The quarter notes and half notes should be counted the same way except each of these notes should be held for the duration or time value of each individual note. See Fig. 2.

Playing the Notes

The first beat of a measure is always the downbeat. When counting you should get used to tapping your foot always beginning with your toes raised. As you count 1 your toes should touch the floor, that is the downbeat, then to complete the count raise your toes again counting the and of the beat which is called appropriately enough the upbeat.

Fig. 2

All that’s left now is to grab your guitar and start playing the melody. Remember to keep strict timing, the duration of each note, by counting as you play after awhile it will become second nature.

The first two notes C, are low pitched tones which means they should be played on the 3rd fret of the A string. See Fig. 2. The next note G would be played on the open G string. Because it is written in a higher pitch than the open A string, the half note A should be played on the 2nd fret of the G string.

Thanks for reading, continue playing, and above all Have Fun!

It's All About The Music!


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