Basic Sheet Music

An introduction to music theory

Gain an understanding of the basic building blocks of musical theory and notation. This free course and introduction to music theory will introduce you to music staves, clefs, pitch values and time signatures. From the beginning you should set yourself a goal. Many people learn keyboards or piano because of a desire to play like their favorite artists, or to play a certain style of music like Rock or Pop Music. Motivations such as these will help you to persevere through the most difficult sections of work. As your playing develops it will be important to adjust and update your goals.

It is important to have a correct approach to practice. You will benefit more from several short practices (e.g 15-30 minutes per day) than one or two long sessions per week. This is especially so in the early stages, because of the basic nature of the material being studied. In a practice session you should divide your time evenly between the study of new material and the revision of past work. It is a common mistake for semi- advanced students to practice only the pieces they can already play well. Although this is more enjoyable, it is not a very satisfactory method to practice. You should also try to correct mistakes and experiment with new ideas. It is the author’s belief that the guidance of an experienced teach will be an invaluable aid in your progress.

The Keyboard

The keyboard is made up of white keys and black keys. the black keys are the groups of twos and threes.

Name That Key

Piano keys are named for the first seven letters of the alphabet, beginning with A.


Each key is recognized by its position in or next to a black key group. For example: A’s are found between the TOP TWO KEYS of each 3-BLACK-KEY GROUP.

Finger Numbers

Response to reading finger numbers should be automatic. Before you begin to play, practice moving each finger as you say its number aloud.


Some musicians learned to play piano or keyboard by ear learning (without written music), and some music traditions
rely more on improvisation. But written music is very useful, for many of the same reasons that written words are useful. Music is easier to study and share if it is written down. Western music specializes for large groups of musicians playing parts exactly as a composer intended. Without written music, this would be too difficult. Many different types of music notation have been invented. By far the most widespread way to write music, however, is on a staff. In fact, this type of written music is so universal that it is called common notation.

The whole note half note & quarter note

Music is made up of short tones and long tones. We write these tones in notes, and we measure their length by counting. The combining of notes into patterns is called RHYTHM.

Half Note

A musical note is the minimum element of a sound. Musical notes can be identified by letters. The seven notes in music are C D E F G A B C.

Half note lasts for two beats. There are two half notes in one bar of 4/4 time. Count 1 2 A Half note has a stem and a white note head (remember the quarter note has a black note head).

Whole Note


The whole note lasts for four beats. There is one whole note in one bar of 4/4 time. Count 1 2 3 4
The larger bold numbers in the count indicate that a note is to be played. The smaller numbers indicate that a note is to be belf until the nest bold number (note).

Quarter Note


A Quarter note is played and held for 1 count, and is the most common note length in music. The round shape you see in the picture is called the ‘note head’. In a quarter note, the note head is black.The line attached to the note head is called the ‘stem’.So whenever you see a note with a black note head and a stem, it is a Quarter note.

Clap (or tap) the following rhythm. Clap ONCE for each note, counting aloud. Notice how the BAR LINES divide the music into MEASURES of equal duration.

Fig. 1

In Fig. 1. the staff (plural staves) is written as staves horizontal parallel lines. Most of the notes of the music are placed on one of these lines or in a space in between lines. Extra ledger lines may be added to show a note that is too high or too low to be on the staff. Vertical bar lines divide the staff into short sections called measures or bars. A double bar line, either heavy or light, is used to mark the ends of larger sections of music, including the very end of a piece, which is marked by a heavy double bar.

Ledger Lines

Ledger Lines are lines for notes that occur outside of the normal range for the Grand Staff. They are in both the Treble and Bass Clefs, and you won’t see them on your sheet music unless the piece requires you to play notes that are above or below the Grand Staff.

One of the most common notes that we all learn in the beginning, that is actually on a ledger line, is Middle C.

the staff
Fig. 2

In Fig. 2 above the five horizontal lines are the lines of the staff. In between the lines are the spaces. If a note is above or below the staff, ledger lines are added to show how far above or below. Shorter vertical lines are bar lines. The most important symbols on the staff are the clef symbol. Key signature and time signature, appear at the beginning of the staff.

The Treble Clef G Clef

The treble clef is a type of musical notation that is used to indicate which pitch should be played when reading and writing music. There are two main clef; the first is a treble clef. The treble clef has the ornamental letter G on the far left side. The G’s inner swoop encircles the “G” line on the staff. The treble clef notates the higher registers of music, so if your instrument has a higher pitch, such as a flute, violin or saxophone, your sheet music is written in the treble clef.  Higher notes on a keyboard also are notated on the treble clef.

Trumpets, Clarinets, Flutes, Violins and the right hand of the piano use the treble clef when playing but it tends to be instruments that have a higher register.

Treble clef notes

Because the treble clef shows us where G is on the stave we can then work out all the other notes from there. See Fig. 4

Fig. 4

Then going down from G we have these notes: See Fig. 5

Fig. 5

Memorizing Treble Clef

Fig. 5


For lines, we remember EGBDF by the word cue “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” Similarly, for the spaces, FACE is just like the word “face.” There are lots of other phrases you can use too like: Every Green Bus Drives Fast or: Elephants GBouncing Down Freeways.

Bass Clef C Clef

The line between the two bass clef dots is the “F” line on the bass clef staff, and it’s also referred to as the F clef. In other words bass clef is called an F clef because it wraps around the highest F note on the bass staff. It’s usually the second clef that musicians learn after treble, as it is placed on the bottom staff in the grand staff for piano. The bass clef notates the lower registers of music, so if your instrument has a lower pitch, such as a bassoon, tuba or cello, your sheet music is written in the bass clef. Lower notes on your keyboard also are notated in the bass clef. Pitch is the quality that allows us to classify a sound as relatively high or low. High lines and spaces indicate relatively higher pitches; low lines and spaces represent relatively lower pitches. 

Bass Clef

The bass clef is a way to notate pitches below middle C. It is also commonly known as F clef because it locates F on the staff. Piano bass clef notes are most frequently played with the left hand. We can easily read pitches below middle C.

By using both treble clef and bass clef, we can easily identify which parts of the music should be performed with the left hand and which parts should be played with the right hand.

Memorizing Bass Clef

Fig. 6


A common mnemonic to remember note names for the lines of the bass clef is: GBDFA “Good Boys Do Fine Always.” And for the spaces: ACEG, “All Cows Eat Grass.”

The Tenor Clef tenor clef

Tenor clef is not seen very often; it is occasionally used to represent the upper ranges of the cello, bassoon, and trombone. Its symbol is identical to the alto clef, but is moved higher on the staff. Similarly, C is moved up one line from alto clef, making the notes on the lines D, F, A, C, E and notes in the spaces E, G, B,D. The alto clef’s center is placed on directly in the middle of the staff.

Right Hand C Position

Place the RH on the keyboard so that the 1st FINGER falls on MIDDLE C. Let the remaining 4 fingers fall naturally on the next 4 white keys. Keep the fingers curved and relaxed.

Fig. 7

The TREBLE STAFF has 5 lines and 4 spaces.

Fig. 8. Middle C is written on a short line below the staff, called a ledger line. D is written in the space below the staff. Each next higher note is written on the next higher line or space.

Fig. 8

Right Hand Warm-Up

Play the following WARM-UP. Say the name of each note aloud as you play. Repeat until you can play smoothly and evenly. As the notes go higher on the keyboard, they are written higher on the staff.

Fig. 9

Left Hand C Position

Place the LH on the keyboard so that the 5th FINGER falls on the C BELOW (to the left of ) MIDDLE C. Let the remaining fingers fall naturally on the next 4 white keys. Keep the fingers curved and relaxed.

Fig. 10

The BASS STAFF also has 5 lines and 4 spaces.

Fig. 11. The C, played by 5, is written on the second space of the staff. Each next higher note is written on the next higher line or space.

Fig. 11

Left Hand Warm-Up

Play the following WARM-UP, Say the name of each note aloud as you play. Repeat until you can play smoothly and evenly.

Fig. 12

When the notes are BELOW the MIDLE LINE of the staff, the stems usually point UP. When notes are ON or ABOVE the MIDDLE LINE, the stems usually point DOWN.

The Grand Staff

Fig. 13. The grand staff (or “great stave”), is a combination of two staves put together, usually a treble clef and a bass clef.

This combination clef is used for a variety of instruments, including piano, organ, or harp, and more. Both staves are played by one person at the same time, so it’s important to be comfortable reading both clefs.

The BASS STAFF and TREBLE STAFF, when joined together with a BRACE, make up the GRAND STAFF.

Fig. 13

What Are Time Signatures?

A time signature tells you how the music is to be counted. Sheet music is divided into measures, which are broken up by bar lines. Each measure contains a specific number of beats. The time signature tells you how many beats are contained in every measure. Every time signature has two numbers, stacked one on top of another. The top note tells the number of beats contained in each measure. The bottom number tells you what kind of note to count. That is, whether to count the beats as quarter notes, eighth notes, or sixteenth notes.


Music has numbers at the beginning called the TIME SIGNATURE. The two numbers after the clefs are called the time signature. A time signature of 4/4 means count 4 quarter notes to each bar. So the pulse, or beat, is counted 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on.

A time signature of 3/4 means count 3 quarter notes to each bar. So the pulse, or beat, is counted 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3


Middle C is written just below the treble staff on a short line called a leger line.

  • Middle C is played with the first finger (thumb) of your right hand.
  • The D note is played with the second finger of your right hand.
  • The E note is played with the third finger of your right hand.
Fig. 14

In the following example there are four bars of music, two bars of middle C (bars 1 and 4), one bar of the D note (bar2) and one bar of the E Note (bar 3). There are four quarter notes in each bar. Listen audio and play following exercise with RH. Fig. 15.

Fig. 15

In the Light of the Moon

This song contains quarter, half and whole notes. Make sure you use the correct finger for each note and follow the count carefully.

Fig. 16

Play ascending and descending the above song.