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