N1: Starting to Read Music

Description: In this module, we'll start to read music for the very first time. We'll understand how sheet music represents time and pitch, and we'll play some simple melodies using basic sheet music notation.

Experience Level: This is for anyone who has just begun to play violin, and who is looking at a piece of violin sheet music for the first time.

Duration: approx. 20 minutes

Instructions: Read the materials then answer the questions.

Understand how sheet music notation represents rhythm and pitch

Time and Pitch

Music notation is a type of code. Once you understand the code, you will know what you have to do to create the music.

The most fundamental information that is contained in the music notation is:

Rhythm - how long and how short the notes are:

Rhythm

You can tell the duration of the note by the shape of the note head and the note stem (the line that comes out of the head). Different shaped note heads and stems will indicate how long each note should be played for (we'll learn the exact durations later on).

Pitch - how high or how low the notes will sound:

Pitch

You can tell how high or how low the notes are by where they are printed on the horizontal lines (we'll learn the exact pitches later on).

Define Rhythm and Pitch

What do rhythm and pitch actually mean? Define the words below by dragging the right box to the right place.
  • Rhythm
    The duration of the notes
  • Pitch
    How high or how low the notes sound

How Rhythm is represented on sheet music

  • The shape of the note heads and the stems
  • Whether the note stems are pointing upwards or downwards
  • Where the note is printed on the horizontal lines

Rhythm

Q: What tells us the rhythm (the duration) of these notes?

How Pitch is represented on sheet music

  • The shape of the note heads and the stems
  • Whether the note stems are pointing upwards or downwards
  • Where the note is printed on the horizontal lines

Pitch

Q: What tells us the pitch of these notes (i.e. how high or how low the notes sound)?

Learn how to write the pitch of a note using music notation

The Stave

The four strings of the violin are G, D, A and E. These are the notes that you'll hear if you play the violin strings without stopping them with your left hand fingers.

In this section, we're going to learn how those notes - G, D, A and E - are represented in sheet music notation.

But first, we need to know a bit more about the five horizonal lines.

Useful Tip: The stems of each note (the lines that go up or down from the head) do NOT affect the note in any way. We'll learn more about this in a future module.

The STAVE (or STAFF - some people call it a 'staff')

The five horizontal lines that you see on every piece of sheet music are necessary for us to be able to understand the pitch. These five horizonal lines are known as the Stave.

The notes sit on the stave. They can appear in one of these places:

  • on a line of the stave
  • between the lines of the stave

(there are some other places the notes can appear too, but we'll learn those later. These are the ones we need for now).

Test Your Knowledge

  • The Stem
  • The Stave
  • The Stand
  • The Notation

Music Stave

Q: What do we call the five horizontal lines that you see on every piece of sheet music?

Learn how to write a rhythm using music notation

Quarter Notes

In a future module, we'll learn about all the different types of note length, and how to write different rhythms in sheet music notation.

In this module, we'll just keep it simple and look at how one type of rhythm is written using sheet music notation, so that you know how the system works and what to look out for.

Crotchet / Quarter NoteThis is known as a Quarter Note or a Crotchet. ('Crotchet' is the UK word for it... most people around the world prefer to call it a 'Quarter Note').

We measure the music by talking about the number of beats. A beat is literally a regular 'count', as if you were counting numbers in a regular pattern (try saying 1...2...3...4... out loud, evenly).

When we make a regular count like that, we can say that we're 'counting the beats'.

Every piece of music has its own pattern of musical beats, and this pattern can be very different depending on the style of the music. We'll be exploring beats and rhythm patterns much more deeply in a future module, so for now just be aware that different musical pieces can have different beat patterns.

For now, for the purposes of this example, we're just going to say that one quarter note has the same time length as one beat

Let's start with 'a count of four'. That means we'll count four beats (1...2...3...4...), and each quarter note will last for one beat, so every note is the same length.

After we've counted 4, we'll play the notes D D A A.

Let's do that without the printed letter names. Remember, the position of the notehead on the stave will tell you whether it's D or A. D is just below the lowest line, whereas A is in the second 'space' up from the bottom.

Let's try repeating that rhythm:

Now let's try it backwards:

In the next section, we'll put these notes together to create a piece of music.

Test Your Knowledge

  • Quarter Note
  • Half Note
  • Eighth Note

What is the American rhythm name of this note?

Test Your Knowledge

  • Crotchet
  • Quaver
  • Minim

What is the British rhythm name of this note?

Play a short piece from sheet music for the first time

Traffic Lights with String Names

  • Yes, I played it with the right notes!
  • I'm struggling with this!

Try playing through this piece of music. You can use the letters under the notes to help you memorise where the notes A and D appear on the lines.

  • is the second space up.
  • D is just below the bottom line.
Traffic Lights Sheet Music

Traffic Lights without String Names

  • Yes, I played it with the right notes!
  • I'm struggling with this!
Traffic Lights Sheet Music