How to Read Music: Lines & Spaces

The notes are named by using a simple pattern of horizontal lines and spaces as follows:

  • Whether you go up or down, the pattern is always the same: line, space, line, space, line, space, line, space, etc.
  • Lines are no more important than spaces and vice versa.
  • The head of each note (the oval shaped part) will always fall onto either a line or space.
  • As you go up, you count up the musical alphabet of seven letters A through G.
  • As you go down, you count down the musical alphabet of seven letters.

Let’s start with G above middle C as defined by the G-clef. As you go up from the “G” line to the very next space above, you count up the musical alphabet of seven letters. Since G is the last of the seven musical letters, you start counting over again, getting the note named “A”:

piano-ology-how-to-read-music-lines-and-spaces-1

As you go down from the “G” line to the very next space below, you count down the musical alphabet of seven letters getting the note named “F”:

piano-ology-how-to-read-music-lines-and-spaces-2

This pattern continues all the way up and down the staff:

piano-ology-how-to-read-music-lines-and-spaces-3


Ledger Lines

There are plenty of notes above and below each staff of five lines and fours spaces. These notes are written by adding short lines called ledger lines. Ledger lines (and the spaces between them) are just a continuation of the alternating lines and spaces on the staff. Your first exposure to a ledger line was probably middle C, the first ledger line below the treble (G-clef) staff:

piano-ology-how-to-read-music-ledger-lines-middle-c-written-in-g-clef

 

By the way, you can use the bass clef (F-clef) to name middle C, too. It is the first ledger line above the bass staff:

piano-ology-how-to-read-music-ledger-lines-middle-c-written-in-f-clef

 

Ledger lines above the treble staff…

 piano-ology-how-to-read-music-ledger-lines-above-treble-staff

Ledger lines below the bass staff…

piano-ology-how-to-read-music-ledger-lines-below-bass-staff

 

Ledger lines above the bass staff…

piano-ology-how-to-read-music-ledger-lines-above-bass-staff

Ledger Lines Reading Tip:

Here’s a visual pattern you can use as a training wheels (not a permanent crutch) for reading notes above the treble staff and below the bass staff:

piano-ology-how-to-read-music-ledger-lines-from-low-c-to-high-c

Notice that…

  • middle C is “in the middle” between the treble and bass staves.
  • the C above middle C and the C below middle C form a “mirror image” on the grand staff. (The C on the treble staff is the second space from the top & the C on the bass staff is the second space from the bottom).
  • that high C is two ledger lines above the treble staff and low C is two ledger lines below the bass staff.

You can use these points of reference as a temporary help to find the notes nearby, but remember this: While it is okay to temporarily count up or down from notes you already know to get your bearings, it is absolutely essential that you eventually learn to recognize each and every note instantly without counting up or down or using other memory tricks (such “Every Good Boy Does Fine” and F-A-C-E”) as as a crutch. If you learn each note without using any crutches, you will be rewarded handsomely in your sight reading and performance… guaranteed! The note names are one of those things you have to absorb by repetition until they become part of you.  And learning to read the ledger lines is no harder than reading any other lines or spaces. All you need is a little experience.

LEARN MORE… Sharps, Flats, and Naturals

About Frank J Peter

A uniquely burdened and blessed citizen of the world thinking and acting out loud!
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