The Fundamentals of Music Notation and Terminology for Beginners

Course: Music Theory Made Easy: A Beginner’s Guide



Now that we’ve covered the importance of music theory let’s dive into the basics of music notation. Music notation is the system of writing down music so musicians can play it. Just as letters and words make up written language, notes and symbols make up music notation.

The foundation of music notation is the staff. The staff comprises five horizontal lines and four spaces and is where musical notes are placed.

Just like a graph, the lines and spaces on the staff represent different pitches, or musical notes. The higher the note, the higher it is placed on the staff. The lower the note, the lower it is placed on the staff. Think of the staff as a musical ladder, each rung representing a different note.

To make it easier to read and write music, we use clefs.

Clefs are symbols that tell us which notes correspond to which lines and spaces on the staff. The most common clefs are the treble clef and the bass clef. The treble clef is used for higher-pitched instruments like the piano, guitar, and violin, while the bass clef is used for lower-pitched instruments like the bass guitar, cello, and double bass.

Treble ClefBass Clef
Typically used for piano, guitar, violin, etcTypically used for bass, cello, etc

Once we know the basics of the staff and clefs, we can start to add notes. Notes are symbols that represent different pitches and are placed on the staff to indicate which note to play. There are many different types of notes, but the most common are whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes. Each note has a different duration or length of time that it is played.

Musical notes

By learning the basics of music notation, we can start to read and write music and communicate our musical ideas with others. For example, one first thing to learn, is the position of all 7 notes in the staff: C, D, E, F, G, A. See the graphic below:

Here you go… Music! It sounds like this on a piano:

And sounds like this when played with a Ukulele:

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