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Each note (also called tone or pitch) is given a letter name using letters A through G.  As the notes (letters) progress, the pitch gets higher.  So we say, generally speaking, that A is a lower note than B, while G is a higher note than F.  

What comes after G?  

After G, we start all over again with the note A, which in this case is a higher note than G.  Notes of the same name but that have a higher or lower pitch are said to be one or more octaves apart.  An octave is the closest distance between two notes of the same name.

The Staff

What’s all this I hear about READING music?

Music, like language, can be read from the page as well as enjoyed by the ear.  Also like language, we see marks on the page that tell us what note to play.  With written music, also called sheet music, we are given a lot of information about what to play.  Sheet music can communicate pitch, duration, tempo, intensity, and silence.

In this section, we’ll focus on pitch.

The staff is how we read and write music.  It refers to the five horizontal lines you see below.  

Pitches on the Staff

Up is Up, Down is Down

The notes we play are written on the staff.  Remember, the pitch goes up as we ascend the alphabet.  The same is true on the staff.  The notes in the example above are represented by the circles on the staff.  The name of each note is given below it.  A note on the page corresponds to a note on your instrument.  Each note on this staff tells us what pitch to play and for what duration.  

Lines and Spaces

Think of the staff as having lines and spaces.  Each line and space represents a different note.  As we go up to the next line or space, we go up to the next note.

If the bottom line represents an E, the bottom space (the next space above that) represents an F.  The next line above that is a G…..and on and on it goes.

You will notice that the bottom space is an F and the top line is also an F.  Remember, these notes are one octave apart.  While they contain the same letter name, they represent different notes on your instrument.  


The symbol at the beginning of the staff is called a clef.  The clef tells us what notes are assigned to each line and space on the staff.  

The two most common clefs are treble clef and bass clef.  Treble clefs are used for the majority of instruments, particularly those playing melodies.  Bass clefs are usually used for lower pitched instruments such as the bass.  

Treble Clef   Bass Clef

How am I supposed to memorize all these notes?

Memorize your notes one at a time, step by step.  Start by memorizing the middle line on the treble clef (B).  We’ll think of this as our anchor.  If we need to know what a note is we can always count out from the middle line.

In treble clef, the middle line is B.  If we need to know what the top line is, we start with B.  We know the next space up is C, the next line above that is D, the next space will be E, so the top line must be F!  

Once you have memorized the middle line, work on the top and bottom lines next.  The top line in treble clef is F, and the bottom line is E.  Now we have three anchors to start from.  Keep memorizing notes one or two at a time until you know the whole staff.  

Every Good Boy Does Fine

Here’s a phrase you can use to help you remember the notes.  The first letter of each word corresponds to a note on each line of the staff:

Quarter Notes

There are many types of notes.  Each one gives you information about how long to hold the note.  To keep it simple, we will start with quarter notes.  A quarter note can be identified by a solid note head and vertical stem.  The location of the note head tells you what note to play and the stem simply identifies it as a quarter note.  

In most cases, for every beat (or click on the metronome), you play one quarter note.  If the metronome clicks four times, you should have played four quarter notes.  


Bass clef: The clef typically used for lower pitched instruments such as the bass.

Beat: A constant pulse in music counted by a metronome, conductor, or other method.  Used to keep track of rhythm.  

Clef: A symbol placed at the beginning of the staff to indicate the designation of pitches.

G clef: Synonymous with treble clef.  

Note:  1) A musical notation indicating the precise pitch to be played and the duration for which it is to be held.  

2) Pitch.

Note head: The body of a note, the center of which identifies its pitch on the staff.

Octave: The closest distance between two separate pitches of the same name.  

Pitch: The frequency of a sound.  

Sheet music: Written music.

Staff: A group of five horizontal lines used to place notes in order to indicate pitch.

Stem: The vertical line attached to the note head going up or down from the note head.  Used to identify the duration of the note.

Tone: Synonymous with pitch.

Treble Clef: The clef used for the majority of instruments, particularly for melodies.  

Basic Notation for Treble Clef