The Basics of Standard Music Notation


In the lesson you will learn the basics of standard music notation. You will learn how to count whole, half notes, quarter notes, eight notes and much more.

We use seven English alphabets to differentiate the musical notes, one from the other. These alphabets are A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

What is a note?

The symbol we use to identify the musical sound is called note.

The word note comes from the Latin word ‘nota’ which means a mark or a sign. A note consists of one, two or three parts. These three parts are referred as the head, steam and flag.

music notation - parts of a note

As a guitarist, you will have to deal with a variety of different types of music. Sometimes you will see music written in tablature, sometimes you will be reading chords, and sometimes as a professional musician you will have to read music written in standard notation. Now let’s learn about the staff.

The Staff

The staff consists of five lines and four spaces among them. The notes are placed on different lines and spaces which will indicate different pitch.

music notation - staff lines

PITCH: The highness or lowness of a tone.


The clef is a sign used to signify a particular portion of musical pitches.

The clef used for guitar is commonly called ‘Treble’ clef or ‘G’ clef because the tail of the clef wraps around the “G” line of the staff. 

music notation - treble clef

Apart from this clef we use one more clef that is for Bass Guitar. This clef is called the ‘F’ clef or ‘Bass’ Clef. It signifies the lower notes or the Bass notes. In modern music only four clefs are use regularly.

music notation - types of clef

How the notes are placed on the staff?

Notes may be placed in the staff, above the staff , or below the staff. Notes are placed on the staff on its lines and spaces. Notes are identified by looking at their position of their head (the round portion of a note) on the staff.

A note will get its name from the line or space it occupies on the staff. The location of a note in the staff, above it or below it will indicate the Pitch.

notes low to high

You can easily remember the names of the notes with the help of a sentence. The sentence is –

Every Good Boy Does Fine (For lines)

F A C E (For spaces)

music notation - notes on the staff

To find a note above the staff, simply move in alphabetical order counting lines and spaces.


The staff is divided into sections by vertical lines called bars.

A bar is a vertical line placed on the staff to divide the staff into sections.

Between two bars we have a measure. Each measure has the same value.

music notation - measures

The value of these measures is indicated by the fraction at the extreme left of the staff (Time signature).

time signatures

The time signature determines the number of counts in a measure. (We’re going to learn about time signature in the next lesson). Double bar denotes the end of a section. The double bar with dots means the section is to be repeated.

double bar line


double bar line with dots


The type of note will indicate the length of its sound.

music notation - types of notes

Remember the whole note has a head that is hollow and it does not have a stem. The whole note has 4 beats. The 1st beat is to be played and other 3 beats are not played but held.

The half note has a head that is hollow and it has a stem. The half note has 2 beats. The 1st beat is to be played and other beat is not played but held.

The Quarter note has 1 beat.

Exercise 1: Write the letter name of each note.

Exercise 1

Check answer

Exercise 1.1

Exercise 2

Check answer

Exercise 2: Write the count below the notes and then clap the rhythm while counting the beats out loud.

Exercise 3

Check answer

Exercise 2.1

Exercise 4

Check answer

Before you learn how to read sheet music and play the music on guitar you need to learn and memorize the notes on a guitar fingerboard (up to the 4th fret)

music notation - notes on the fretboard


Stay tune for part 2, where I’m going to show you how to play happy birthday and my own melody I came up with on 20/7/2018.

Happy Birthday Melody Embellishment

Click for larger image

We’re going to learn to play the melody below in the next lesson.

melody for next lesson

If you like this lesson, please leave a comment.

I’d appreciate it 🙂


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment

Pin It on Pinterest