Join date: Feb 2007
830 IQ
Music Theory For Beginners Part 1

In this lesson I am going to attempt to teach you guys (and gals) about…

• The grand staff
• Bar lines and time signatures
• Note values and names
• The musical notes (Most common)
• The treble and bass cleff
• Ledger Lines

As you can see from what I am too teach you above, I am trying to break these down into little easy steps for you to learn a lot easier.

The Grand Staff

The grand staff is what the notes of the musical alphabet are put on; each line or space represents a different note letter (such as numbers on tablature).

Above is a blank stave, as you can see as I had said before the image there are different lines and spaces, the notes on the stave are never the same unless always in the same key and clef. If in another key or clef then the note line changes but it is simple to explain and will be in a future lesson.

If in a piece of music two or more of the same instrument are playing at the same time then the staves are found to be joined like in the image below. This is commonly found on keyboards when only one person is playing but they are using their right hand for melody in the treble clef and chords in the bass clef or visa versa. They are also found in guitar tab books when rhythm guitar and lead are playing at the same time.

Bar Lines and Time Signatures

Firstly we’ll start with bar lines as this will make time signatures easier to understand. Bar line are lines that separate bars, sorry for making it a bit obvious but just incase people know next to nothing about music theory I had to explain it, they are the thin lines seen in a piece of music. At the end of a piece of music there are what as known as double bar lines, with a regular bar line followed by a much thicker one, below are pictures of both.

People who know a little bit more music theory to others might of recognized the time signature in the picture above (The 4/4 sign). I will now explain them. Time signatures work along side the tempo (beat/pace) of a song. The numbers mean different things. In England we know notes by Quaver, Crotchet, Minim, and Semi-Breve but in America its Eight Note, Quarter Note, Half Note, Whole Note. Well the time signature of 4/4 means this; 4 Quarter Notes in a bar or 4 Crotchets in a bar. The top of the time signature meaning how many so in this case 4 and the bottom meaning Quarter Notes/Crotchets. The bottom number can be seen as this.

1 = Whole Note’s/Semi-Breve’s
2 = Half Note’s/Minim’s
4 = Quarter Note’s/Crotchet’s
8 = Eighth Note’s/ Quaver

I hope this section of the lesson has helped.

Note Values And Names

In this section of the lesson we are only going to learn 4 of the note values and note names however in a future lesson we will go into further note values and names. Let’s start of with the Crotchet. In standard 4/4 time (referring to last section of the lesson) a crotchet is one whole beat. Next we’ll go to the note below a Crotchet which is the
Quaver the smallest note we are to study at the moment. As a Quaver is half a Crotchet on a 4/4 time signature there are 2 Quavers per beat. In 4/4 time two quavers are linked together by what are called ‘beams’. Next we’ll look at minim’s which are one Crotchet higher than a Crotchet, so two Crotchets equal a minim. A minim therefore is worth two beats in 4/4 time. A minim looks like a Crotchet but instead of the note head (The circle) being black it is white, you can fit two minim’s in a bar of 4/4 time. Lastly the largest we are to study at the present time. A Semi-Breve, in 4/4 time Semi-Breve’s can fit in only once in a bar therefore 2 minims is equivalent to a Semi-Breve. Below are the notes we have just studied and a little bit of maths to make their note values a bit clearer.

I hope you have understood this part well.

The Common Musical Alphabet Part 1

I hope you understood the grand staff and note values well as now I am to explain about the notes on it! In my title I refer to the Music Alphabet as ‘The Common Musical Alphabet’ this is because for example in Germany they have an H which I think represents the B and the B represents a Bb.

The common musical alphabet consists of seven notes repeated they are A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Once repeated the second A is known as an octave. In retrospect to a guitar or bass the octave would be from an open E to the 12th fret of that string and is the same with all open strings on guitars and bass’ the 12th fret is the octave of the open string. This is because they are 12 notes in a chromatic scale which I will touch on in a future lesson.

To try and incorporate scales a little now (I will cover them full soon!) the common musical alphabet with out accidentals (sharps and flats) is also known as the C major scale. With C being the root note it goes up from their C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C note the octave C. In tab the C major scale would look like this.

At the moment I am going to stop this half of the lesson is you need to understand clefs before I can move on

The Treble, Bass and Percussion Clefs

Clefs tell a musician what to play on the grand staff. The most common clefs are the Treble, Bass and Percussion clefs. Firstly I’ll start with the Treble clef. The treble clef is used for instruments with a higher pitch than those who use the bass clef, instruments such as the guitar, violin and flute. Below is a 4 bar extract from the Kiss song ‘Beth’ using the guitar part to show you how the treble clef is used. If you trying to find the song it’s on the MTV Unplugged album by Kiss. This part is played on an acoustic guitar by Paul Stanley. It’s at 110 beats per minute.

To read the treble clef there are some mnemonics. For the spaces remember the word face as on the treble clefs grand staff the 4 spaces spell out FACE.

For the lines remember this Mnemonic, Every Good Boy Deserves Football this is because on the grand staff the lines are the notes E,G,B,D,F ascending.

Next for the bass clef, the bass clef is the opposite of the treble clef in usage, where the treble clef is written for instruments such as the violin and guitar, the bass clef is used for instruments such as the tuba or bass guitar. Below is a 4 bar extract from another Kiss song ‘Plaster Caster’. This piece however is played on the bass guitar and by Gene Simmons. It’s at 137 beats per minute.

Because the treble and bass clef contain different notes on the lines and spaces there has to be a different mnemonic for them. For the spaces think Alien Cows Eat Germans (Hope it doesn’t offend Germans) as the notes in the spaces are A, C, E and G.

For the lines it is similar to the treble clef’s but instead of Every Good Boy Deserves Football, for the bass clef I like to use Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always and I’ve also heard Gay Boys Do **** Arse but which ever is more memorable to you.

The Common Musical Alphabet Part 2

Hopefully you now understand clefs as you will need to know about them to progress. As we’re learning music theory here it’s all good being able to read tab but its also good to read standard notation too, look at guitarists such as Frank Zappa, Steve Vai even John Lennon, they all wrote and read standard notation! If they can do it then so can you. So below you can see what the C major scale looks like in notation, we have already viewed it in tab so this should be quite simple to understand.

As you can see the first 8 notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C) are ascending, this is because they are getting higher in reference to pitch, then the last 8 notes (C, B, A, G, F, E, D, C) are descending, this is because the notes are getting lower in reference to pitch. Also if you see the C octave the ‘stem’ or ‘tail’ of the note droops down and not up (dirty minded people this is not because he had a hard-on and now is soggy!) this is because as soon as you get to B, you can choose whether the tail goes up or down.

Ledger Lines

People again who have a little more music theory knowledge to others may have noticed that on the image of the C major scale in notation the root note (first note) appears to have a horizontal line going through the note head. This is called a ‘ledger line’. Ledger lines are used because on a grand staff there are only 5 lines and 6 spaces giving only 11 notes in total to put on the stave so a ledger line applies an extra line or space so that you can see what the note should be. If you take the guitar for example there are a maximum of 24 frets on a guitar (Unless you’ve got Michael Angelo Batio’s 28 fretted guitar) so 24 frets give you 24 notes on the chromatic scale but that has sharps and flats. So take the E string for example. All natural notes in the C Major Scale (According to scale, no sharps or flats). There are a total of 15 notes, with only 11 on the grand staff; there would have to be 3 lower ledger lines. The image below shows this. I’ve put the tab their just in case your still a bit confused with reading standard notation.


I’d just like to say thank you for looking at my lesson and I hope you have learned something from it, that you can play the piece above and most importantly understand the lesson fully. People who are just starting music theory I know how you guys feel because I’ve been their and at first it’s tough but with the right help you can get through it with ease. Good luck and keep checking back for my future lessons on music theory.


P.S any questions feel free to PM me or e-mail me via jamiedonnelly93@hotmail.co.uk also the zip file contains the percussion clef. Look at it it will be in my next lesson and their is a piece i'd like you guys to sight read its in C major
Be back later.
Join date: Sep 2005
2,701 IQ
Pretty cool. This will probably be helpful to a lot of UG'ers