Table of Contents

The basic elements

Sheet music is written on a set of horizontal, parallel lines called the staff. Other small figures and lines are written on or around the staff to indicate things like which notes are played, how long each note is played for, and what rhythm the music should be played in.[4]

  • Clefs are various shapes written at the very beginning of a music staff, which tell you what pitches are on what line or space of the staff. The treble clef looks sort of like an ampersand, while the bass clef looks like a backwards C with 2 dots on top of it.
  • The key signature appears next to the clef and is composed of 1 or several # (sharp) or b (flat) symbols on individual lines of the staff. These symbols indicate that all notes played on that line should either be played either sharp or flat.
  • The notes on the staff lines indicate which notes to play on an instrument and are made up of 3 parts: the note head (a black oval that is either open or closed), the stem (the vertical line attached to the note head), and the flag (the curved stroke at the top of the stem).
  • Note that not all notes contain all 3 parts at the same time. Different combinations of open or closed note heads, stems, and flags tell you how long to play an individual note in terms of beats or fractions of beats. For instance, an open note with no stem or flag is played for 4 beats, while a closed note with a stem is played for 1 beat.