read­ing mu­sic

Rockschool’s Char­lie Grif­fiths teaches you to read mu­sic. This is­sue: Notes On The Stave.

Guitar Techniques - - Learning Zone -

Last month, we set out the three steps of read­ing mu­sic: Step one is to use your eyes to recog­nise the notes on the stave; step two is to process that in­for­ma­tion in your mind; and step three is to trans­late the in­for­ma­tion to the guitar. We fo­cused on the lat­ter two and learnt how to find spe­cific notes on the guitar. This month, we’ll learn how notes are writ­ten on the stave, and start with some ex­er­cises in trans­lat­ing the in­for­ma­tion and play­ing those notes on the guitar.

Mu­sic is writ­ten with dots, which are placed from left to right on five hor­i­zon­tal lines called a stave, which is also some­times called a staff. There are dif­fer­ent types of dots that each rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent note lengths – we’ll look at this in more depth in a later les­son. For now, we will use the ‘crotchet’, or quar­ter-note, sym­bol, which is a black dot with a ver­ti­cal stem at­tached to one side. The stem can ei­ther be placed to the right and point­ing up, or to the left and point­ing down, just like the let­ters d and p. The quar­ter-note is the most ba­sic mea­sure­ment of time and means: ‘play one note per beat’.

The pitch of the note is de­ter­mined by the ver­ti­cal place­ment of the dot (or ‘note head’) on the stave. The note-head can be po­si­tioned ei­ther di­rectly on top of the line, or in the spa­ces be­tween the lines; the lower the po­si­tion, the lower the pitch and vice versa. Guitar mu­sic is usu­ally writ­ten on a tre­ble clef, which you can recog­nise by the or­nate squig­gle at the begin­ning of the staff. On the tre­ble clef, the five lines rep­re­sent the notes E-G-B-D-F, from low to high. Mnemon­ics are usu­ally an ef­fec­tive way of quickly re­mem­ber­ing seem­ingly un­re­lated in­for­ma­tion, so Ev­ery Gui­tarist Buffs Dirty Frets might help jog your mem­ory!

In fact, those five let­ters are not as un­re­lated as they seem when you place the four ‘space’ let­ters in be­tween. The spa­ces on the stave spell FACE from low to high, which is a help­fully ob­vi­ous word.

Mnemon­ics are ef­fec­tive for quickly mem­o­ris­ing

in­for­ma­tion. ‘Ev­ery Gui­tarist Buffs Dirty Frets’ might help jog your mem­ory.

Amal­ga­mat­ing all these let­ters, pro­duces the se­quence: E F G A B C D E F (low to high).

The fol­low­ing ex­er­cises are de­signed to help you learn the notes on the stave in man­age­able chunks. The first three ex­am­ples use three con­sec­u­tive let­ters at a time: ‘A-B-C’, ‘D-E-F’ and ‘E-F-G’. We have pro­vided tab for these so you can make sure you’re ap­ply­ing the notes to the guitar cor­rectly, although you could cover the tab up if you’re feel­ing brave. Ex­am­ples 4 and 5 are split into ‘spa­ces’ and ‘lines’, and there’s no tab – so you can test out your newly ac­quired skills.

Even if the thought of read­ing mu­sic has pre­vi­ously seemed scary, learn­ing it like this, in chunks, will soon have you break­ing down those walls and en­joy­ing it! And even if you never be­come a flu­ent sight reader, think how much eas­ier learn­ing the parts to new songs will be; how much more em­ploy­able you will be­come – say, in shows or when dep­ping for other gui­tarists (po­ten­tially very lu­cra­tive); and how much more rounded and de­vel­oped a mu­si­cian you will be.

Imag­ine be­ing able to look at a page of mu­sic and read the notes by sight!

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