Reading music is an excellent skill to learn and will only benefit you on your path in music. Reading music gives you the ability to communicate in a universal language. A note on the staff is the same note to every person on Earth. Understanding and unlocking this skill will open new doors to communication and help you deepen your knowledge of the layers of music theory. In this two part article, you will learn to hack the code and read music like a pro.
How To Start Reading Music
Reading music is not as difficult as you might think. If you go slowly and practice consistently, you will make significant progress. Think about how long you have been speaking and reading your native language. You are a fluent speaker and reader in your native language. How did you acquire these skills? Over time, you developed the language yourself.
The same can be valid for music or any other language you wish to learn. Music itself is a language. Music has both a written and spoken form and a grammar structure to match.
We notate music on a combination of five lines and four spaces called the staff. The staff looks like this:
Lines on the staff are counted from the bottom to the top. The first line is the bottom line, and the fifth line is the top line. Likewise, the first space is the bottom space, and the fourth space is the top space.
What is Treble Clef?
Treble clef signifies where the note G is on the staff. For this reason, the treble clef is also known as G Clef. Treble clef looks like this:
Do you see how the treble clef begins with a curve surrounding the second line of the staff, then rises and curls around itself above the staff, and then descends through the turn around the second line, forming an ‘X mark or intersection on the second line of the staff? This marks the second line of the staff as the note G like this:
This particular G is the G directly above middle C and is found here on the keyboard:
The Notes on the Lines of Treble Clef
How can you use this information to discover the rest of the notes on the staff in treble clef? First, try to figure out the notes on the lines of the staff. The notes ascend and descend in sequential order by each line and space. Here the notes on the lines of the treble clef:
In treble clef, E is on the first line, G is on the second line, B is on the third line, D is on the fourth line, and F is on the fifth line. Essentially you skip every other note ascending and descending from G.
As you move higher on the staff, the notes move higher in pitch. As you move lower on the staff, the notes move lower in pitch. Can you visualize where these notes fit on the keyboard?
Check out the diagram below for the placement of these notes on the keyboard. Middle C is the lowest note on the diagram. All of these notes are above middle C.
The Spaces of Treble Clef
Now that you understand the lines on the treble clef staff, take a moment to try to discover the spaces. Which notes fit inside the spaces?
Check out the diagram below for the spaces of treble clef notated on the staff:
In treble clef, F is on the first space, A is on the second space, C is on the third space, and E is on the fourth space. The C on the third space is one octave above middle C. Can you visualize where these notes fit on the keyboard?
Check out this diagram below to see where these notes fit on the keyboard:
The Full Combination
The entire combination of notes on the lines and spaces of treble clef looks like this:
What in the World is Bass Clef?
Now that you have a basic understanding of the treble clef, it is time to learn about the next tool in the music reading toolbox, the bass clef.
The bass clef looks like this:
The bass clef begins with a large dot on the fourth line of the staff, then curves around to the right, sort of like an ear shape. Notice the two dots on either side of the fourth line. All this embellishment around the fourth line is a clue.
The bass clef locates F on the staff, specifically the F directly below middle C. Check out the diagram below for the position of this F on the keyboard:
The Lines of Bass Clef
Now that you know that F is on the fourth line of the bass clef, try to uncover the notes on the remaining four lines in the same way you did for treble clef.
Check out this diagram below for the notes on the lines of bass clef:
In bass clef, G is on the first line, B is on the second line, D is on the third line, F is on the fourth line, and A is on the fifth line. Can you visualize where these notes fit on the keyboard? Check out the diagram below to find the lines of the bass clef on the keyboard. Middle C is marked as the top key for reference.
The Spaces of Bass Clef
Now that you know the notes on the bass clef lines, it is time to learn the notes on the spaces of the bass clef. Can you identify them already?
Check out the diagram below to learn the spaces of bass clef:
A is on the first space of the bass clef, C is on the second space of the bass clef, E is on the third space of the bass clef, and G is on the fourth space of the bass clef. The C on the second space is one octave below middle C. Can you visualize where these notes fit on the keyboard? Check out the diagram below for the spaces of the bass clef on the keyboard. Again, middle C is marked as the top note for reference.
Total Bass Clef Combination
The total combination of lines and space on the bass clef looks like this:
Some Tips and Tricks
Try to create some mnemonic devices to remember the notes of treble and bass clef. Remember, a mnemonic device is a phrase you make to recall a particular set of letters, where each word of the device starts with the letter you are trying to remember. What mnemonic devices can you think of for treble clef?
The most common mnemonic device to remember the treble clef lines is probably “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” What other mnemonic devices can you think of? The most common device for the treble clef spaces is “FACE” because the notes spell the word face.
For bass clef, the most common mnemonic device for the lines is probably “Good Boys Do Fine Always.” What about “Grizzly Bears Do Fish Always.” Use your imagination! The most common device for the bass clef spaces is either “All Cows Eat Grass” or “All Cars Eat Gas.” Can you come up with something else?
These devices are helpful to memorize the notes in treble and bass clef and can be beneficial when learning how to read on the staff. For example, to decipher a note on the third line of the treble clef, start at the bottom and count up each line with your mnemonic until you reach the third line. “Every, Good, Boy,” B, the note on the third line of the treble clef is B. If you are trying to figure out the note on the fourth space of bass clef, start at the bottom and count up, “All Cars Eat Gas,” G. The note on the fourth space of bass clef is G.
End of Part 1
In Part 1, you learned the basics of how to crack the code of reading music. You learned about the staff, the treble clef, and the bass clef and some tips and tricks of how to quickly identify the notes on each clef.
In Part 2 , you will learn some deeper secrets such as the grand staff, middle C, and some basics of key signatures, accidentals, and enharmonic equivalents. You will sound like a music reading pro in no time!