I hope this lesson will be helpful for beginners in reading & writing Music.

Let’s start with a String.

We find strings on all sorts of wonderful musical instruments, from the Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Guitars both Acoustic and Electric, Harps, Dulcimers, even Drums!

In order to make music on these instruments we need to learn how to play the strings, how to make them sing!

The Violin has 4 strings.  The Guitar, 6 or sometimes 7.  The Harp, between 22 & 47!

The Composer uses 5 strings:

This is called the Staff.

Right now the Staff doesn’t tell us very much.  The strings could be tuned to any note and there’s no way of knowing how or what.

This is where the Clef comes in.

The Clef comes from the French word for ‘Key.’  Nowadays we use the word Key for a different musical meaning.  But the Clef is still used as a key of sorts to open up the staff.

The above clef is probably the most well known musical clef.  It is called the Treble Clef, because it represents the high (Treble) register in Music.  It is also known as the G Clef, because on the staff it wraps around the G string.

Now we know where to find the G string, any notes that are placed on this line will be the note G, specifically the G 5 steps above Middle C.

The other clef that is used in piano music is the Bass Clef.  Bass is the low register.  It is known as the F Clef, for the same reason- the string it wraps around becomes F, the F 5 steps below Middle C.

Generally speaking, the Left Hand takes the part in the Bass Clef, and the Right Hand takes the Treble.  There are many exceptions to this rule in music however, with the hands crossing each other or moving into higher or lower registers.

In piano music, both staves are combined into the Grand Staff.

Here you can see Middle C written on a little mini-string in between the staves.  This is called a Ledger Line, and is used to extend the range of the staff either higher or lower.

OK, let’s learn the notes!  In music we use seven letters.  They’re in alphabetical order, so if you know your ABC’s, you should be good.  The notes are: ABCDEFG

Easy as 1-2-3.

The notes repeat themselves after 7 scale steps.  So after G, comes A.

Now I said we use the 5 strings, but we also use the Spaces in between the Lines as well.  So to write the Scale of C Major, from C up to C’, we start at the line on Middle C, up to the space D, then up to the next line E and so on…

When moving down, the note names go backwards.  Here you can see how the scale moves down the Bass Clef from Middle C:

Try to continue these patterns. Look at the scale in the Treble Clef. What is the note on the line above High C?  What is the note on the space below Middle C?  Look at the Bass Clef as well.  What is the note on the line below Low C? The space below?

So that takes care of all the White Keys on the Piano.  What about the Black Keys?

The Black Keys use the same 7 letters, but are written with Sharps or Flats, these are sometimes called “Accidentals.”  I don’t really know why, they aren’t accidents, they have an important purpose!

So if a Sharp symbol appears in front of a note, that note is raised by a half-step.  C becomes C#,  F becomes F#, etc.  C# is the Black Key that is just above C.

Flat notes work the same way, if the Flat symbol is in front, the note is lowered by a half-step.  E becomes Eb,  B becomes Bb, etc.

The Natural Symbol cancels out a Sharp or Flat note, it makes the note Natural.  Simple.

*Extra Theory Stuff* There is a word you should know: Enharmonic.  This is when a note has two different names, but sounds the same.  C# and Db, are the same note on the piano, the black key just above C.  We say that C# and Db are Enharmonic.  All of the black keys can be spelled in two ways.  In different musical context, the spelling may change, but the actual sound is the same!

*Note: The Sharps and Flats appear before the notes in music, but when we talk or write about the notes, they go after.  So we say C-Sharp, or A-Flat, and write them out as C# and Ab.

Accidentals at work:  the notes G-Flat, G-Natural, and G-Sharp.

*One more Note:  an Accidental lasts through an entire measure!  If a Composer writes an F#, all the following F’s become F# as well, unless they are marked with a Natural.  This is automatically cancelled at the beginning of the next barline.  The Sharps and Flats in a Key Signature however, last for the whole piece, unless the composer cancels them with Natural signs or changes the Key.  This sounds crazy, but it’s an old tradition and you’ll get into the habit by following your ear when you read music.

**More Extra Theory Stuff** Occasionally in Music you will see a Double Sharp, x, or a Double Flat, bb. This means to raise or lower by another half-step.  It is used to modify a note that is already sharp or flat, usually because of the Key Signature.  So Cx means C## (C-Sharp, Sharp), which is the same tone as D natural.  They are rare but not that unusual, I can think of many pieces of Bach and Beethoven off the top of my head that use them.  LvB’s Moonlight Sonata, for example, has Double Sharps in the First and Last Movements.

Terrific.  If you’ve made it this far, good for you!  You’re on your way to mastering the basics of Music.  I’ve not mentioned anything about Time, Rhythm, Note Values, Rests, Keys or Scales, because these things will come later.


There are various methods of ‘flashing’ the notes onto your memory, from note flashcards to desktop and mobile apps that drill random notes.  These are good and I recommend using them, however they only activate the receptive ‘Reading’ part of the brain.  We also need to develop the creative ‘Writing’ part of the brain.  So I’ve included a page of staff paper for you to print and work with.  It’s probably a good idea to purchase a handful of 10 or 12 Stave Music paper books for yourself.  But that’s not necessary to begin.

Practice drawing the Clefs.  Aim for elegant, smooth, curvy Lines.  Be sure that your treble clef spirals nicely around the G-string, and that your bass clef loops around the F-string and don’t forget the two dots around the F.  Draw them each as many times as you need to for it to feel fluid and natural.  It may take a few days or months for these to look really musical!  Every composer has their own style of handwriting, so it’s cool if your clefs don’t look exactly like the printed versions.  But don’t be lazy and draw ugly clefs!

Focus on learning the notes, specifically the natural 7 white key notes.  The Sharps and Flats will come once we start working with the 12 Keys.  Write the C Major Scale (The notes from C to C) on both clefs.  Say the notes out loud or quietly in your head while you write and label all the notes.  Write the scale backwards.  Write the scale by starting and ending on a different note, for example from A to A, or from G to G.  Continue writing the scales past where I left off, go higher and lower.  Try to go so high or low that you have to write the scales using only the ledger lines!  Do this every day, it should only take 15 or 20 minutes.

In addition to this work, get a big book of Beethoven or Mozart Sonatas or Bach Preludes & Fugues (you’ll want these anyway) and open a page at random and start naming the notes you see.  If there is a Chord, start from the bottom and work your way up. This is a good habit when it comes to sight reading, because the Bass note is the most important!

The best technique is this: actually writing music!  After you’ve done the previous techniques a few times, try composing a melody at the piano, just using the white keys.  It only has to be between maybe 5 – 12 notes.  Don’t worry about writing an exact rhythmic notation or anything, just get the notes down the best you can.  Write a melody in the bass clef.  Write one with your left hand and another with your right.  Write a melody every day!  Write 20!  Challenge yourself further, and experiment with melodies using only the black keys!  Write them down!  Soon you’ll have a whole book full of melodies for you to compose a Song or a Symphony.

Combine all these techniques with daily practice of ‘Flash’ memory training, with flashcards or digital apps, you’ll know all the notes of the Grand Staff and beyond like the back of your hand.

Good Luck!

Download Music Paper in PDF format

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