An Introduction to Music Note Names
The first time someone learns piano, they struggle with reading music sheet and have no idea abut the music note names. There are multiple symbols drawn on the page, positioned on a variety of lines and spaces.
Music is a language of its own. For a beginner, learning sheet music is like trying to read a book in a different language. Once you start learning the basics, understanding sheet music becomes easier.
The most basic way to start is learning to read what you play on piano: notes! Each note corresponds to a different key on the piano. Sheet music expresses each note using staff positioning and even the amount of time you hold the note.
This guide describes the music note names and how to read them on the staff.
The Essential Music Note Names: A Briefing
All music notes are identified by a letter from the alphabet. The letters range from A-G. These notes are grouped together and in different groups of keys on the piano, called an octave .
On a traditional 88-key piano, the note on the farthest left is C1 (or C in 1st octave) and the note on the far right is B7 (or B in 7th octave).
Let’s focus on each note individually. Each note represents a letter and the letter describes the note’s pitch. For example, the C note is always lower than the D note in the same octave.
When reading sheet music, the notes you play are expressed by their position on the staff and the amount of time you play each note. There are additional important symbols that don’t correspond with piano keys, such as rests. See quarter rest, whole rest and half rest.
Like any other text, you read sheet music from left to right.
Reading Notes on the Scale
Reading the scale consists of reading a staff. The staff is made up of lines and spaces. Music notes are positioned on a specific line or space. These lines and spaces are represented by certain notes.
The notes you play depends on the clef . Treble clefs and bass clefs have different notes on their staffs.
The treble clef represents higher notes on the piano, or any note after middle C. Starting from the bottom to the top line, the notes are in order by the letters and their position on the piano.
From the bottom to the top line, the notes are E, F, G, A, B, C, E, and F.
Each line and space has a specific pitch symbolized by a note. The line notes are E, G, B, D, and F. The space notes are, F, A, C, and E.
The bass clef represents lower notes on the piano, or any note played before middle C. Like the treble clef, the bass clef notes are in order from the bottom to the top line.
These notes follow the alphabetical order and the positioning of piano keys.
Since bass clef notes are lower, the notes on the bass clef are different than the ones on the treble clef. From the bottom to the top line, the notes on the bass clef are G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and A.
Each staff line and space has a specific pitch symbolized by a note. From the bottom to the top, the bass clef notes are G, B, D, F, and A. From the bottom to the top, the bass clef space notes are A, C, E, and G.
The piano has 88 keys but a traditional staff only has five lines and four spaces. What do you do with the other notes? You express these notes with ledger lines.
Ledger lines represent notes played that don’t fit on the staff.
Ledger lines look like lines through a note. One line below the staff represents the next or previous note, before or after the highest or lowest line on the staff.
Let’s look at the treble clef. The last note on the lowest line is E. To play the F below the E, the F note is right below the line. To play the E below the F note, a line is drawn through the E note.
The same thing happens with notes played above the highest line on the staff. The highest line on the staff is F. The next note, G, fits right above the line. The next note, A, has a line through the note.
As you add more notes above and below the staff, you add more lines.
Sometimes, you’ll see an accent by a note. These accents are either the sharp symbol (#) or the flat symbol (?). Sharps mean a half-step higher pitch and a flat means a half-step lower pitch.
Sharp and flat keys are the black keys on the piano. For example, the black key next to the F note on the right is F sharp, while the key next to the B note on the left is B flat.
These keys can have two different names. For example, one black key can be C sharp and the same black key is called D flat.
Note Time Values
Now you know the note names and their placement on the staff. When you play music, any musician knows timing is everything. So how do you know how long to play a note? That’s why sheet music expresses notes by their time value.
Note timing gets complex, but we’ll only go over basic times. Most notes fall between a whole note (or four counts) and a sixteenth note (or a quarter of a beat).
Here are the notes and their time value:
- Whole note (looks like O): four counts
- Half note (looks like a quarter note, but the circle isn’t filled in): two counts
- Quarter note (?): one count
- Eighth note (?): 1/2 count
- Sixteenth note (?): 1/4 count
Start Practicing Piano!
Reading music notes is difficult for any beginner. But once you know the music note names, reading sheet music becomes a lot easier.
Notes have lettered names. They have different positions on the staff that represent the note you play. Each note is drawn as a time value so you know how long to play each note.
You also want to read about our article of grand staff.
For more music theory help, keep reading our blog.