The 5 Rules in Starting to Read Sheet Music

Mar 21, 2017

This article is sponsored by Newzik. The goal is to encourage music lovers to smoothly enter the music community.

First off, music can be defined as a combination of sounds that go well together. In fact, it has existed as an audible art for thousands of years before anyone started theorizing it. Eventually theory was developed because musicians needed a language communicate in, to better their own performance. So, even today, if you want to know how to play an awesome song you’ve heard on Youtube or any song for that matter, you need to learn how this way of expressing yourself works!

In this perspective, there are 5 rules to follow, described below.

RULE 1: Understand the structure of sheet music

As a language, music is a combination of symbols and timing and is written on a sheet of paper, called sheet music.

Let’s decipher some of the main ‘musical hieroglyphs’ a little…


To start with, on sheet music, there is a staff. The staff is the base structure for everything. It is composed of five horizontal parallel lines and perpendicular lines called “measure lines”.

Above, you can see two staves. It is not a trick! The paragraph below will explain why.


A Staff always starts with a Clef. The Clef gives the tonality for an instrument or voice.

For instance, in the sheet music above, the Treble Clef (the upper purple circle) identifies the higher range notes, and matches with the right hand of the pianist whereas the Bass Clef (the lower purple circle) identifies the lower range notes, and matches with his left hand.


Right next to the Clef, you will see a type of fraction, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 7/8 or 9/8…
These fractions are called “time signatures”.
So, for instance, if it is written 4/4 next to the first clef symbol: the numerator indicates there are four beats in a measure and the denominator tells you each quarter note is equal to one beat.

Usually, musicians use the 3/4 signature for waltzes, the 4/4 one for Western popular music


There we are! There are 6 different note figures and each of them has a timing value. The values of the notes constitute the rhythm of the music.

Semibreve is a whole note, equal to four beats

Minim is a half note, equal to two beats

Crotchet is a quarter note, equal to one beat

Quaver is an eighth note, equal to half a beat

Semiquaver is a sixteenth note, equal to a quarter of a beat

Demisemiquaver is a thirty-second note, equal to an eighth of a beat

You now get the very basics of music theory, hopefully enough to increase your appetite for music…

RULE 2: Acquire an aid to refer to

To learn about all these symbols and concepts, you will need a reference book. Well… of course having a teacher on top of that would be even better. However, we all know that can come at a cost.
Adolphe Danhauser’s Solfège des Solfèges (Vol. 1, 2 and 3) is highly recommended because It contains various simple exercises to help you familiarize with music notations.
There are also a few different websites and apps which explain the basics of music theory very clearly and to which you could also refer.
The Berklee Pulse platform is one of them; it supports the use of interactive online technologies to teach and learn popular music.

RULE 3: Add practice to theory

Learning only the theory, however, will not satisfy your thirst for music. That is why you need to choose an instrument to play to truly be able to see the progress you have made. And playing makes learning much more fun, our 3rd rule! Piano and guitar are the most convenient instruments to start with. Apps such as JoyTunes are the most convenient platforms for learning with, due to its easy use and accessible nature. We have personally selected for you some very interactive apps that we believe could help reach your goals. They follow your progress by correcting your playing.

RULE 4: Play regularly

All these rules will prove effective when combined with regular practice: Play your instrument, repetition, the same songs over and over again, and learn new ones.

Then, you need to make a game out of this theoretical learning. In this case, some websites make learning music interactive and entertaining. There are also many mnemonics you can repeat to yourself to learn the notes. For example, the sentence “Every Good Boy Does Fine” helps you remember the notes on the lines of the treble clef (E, G, B, D, F, A and C), you can find such mnemonics in this WikiHow article.

RULE 5: Keep up the good work!

Don’t give up. Learning music is not that easy of a task. Actually, John Keller’s ARCS theory tells you that enough confidence and motivation will make you work the hardest, as you can see in the quotation below.



In order to better your learning potential, it is important to combine all 5 of these guidelines set above. But just remember that the most important element here is to put theory into practice.
Now that you have the basics of music learning, start practicing!

– The Newzik Team –


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