Guiter lesson insider

Beginner Guitar Lessons Part 6 – Sheet Music Basics

The main hurdle for beginning guitarists to overcome today is that most cannot read sheet music. Because fewer people are required to participate in some kind of music class while in school, a large majority of those wishing to play guitar struggle due to their inability to read the music.

A main source that perpetuates the problem when you try to play the guitar is the guitar tablature. While learning to read music is simple, guitar tablature allows people to play without learning to read music, which means that they also do not flourish in their guitar–playing advancement. This article will cover the basics of sheet music; the next article will teach you the notes behind each string on the guitar. So, perk up and listen – this is where guitar can become complicated.

Notes Along the Fretboard

Above is the fretboard of a guitar. As you can see, it goes up to the 12th fret, and this shows every possible fret note.

How to Read Music

Notes on Sheet Music

Just like a book (and tabs), you read sheet music from left to right. Sheet music is written on a form called a staff, which contains 5 lines and 4 spaces (in between the lines). To the right is a picture displaying the notes for each space and line. At the beginning of sheet music there is a sign called a clef (right before the stacked 4’s). All guitar music is based in treble clef (which is the curly figure shown above), so you will not have to worry about bass clefs. Also, note that sheet music is separated by bars into measures. This figure only shows one measure, but an entire piece of sheet music would have many measures with a certain number of beats per measure (see time signatures for a full explanation of beats per measure).

Key Signature

A key signature is simply how the notes are played – essentially what key you will be playing the song in. The key signature is indicated right after the treble clef with either a flat(s) or sharp(s). Now, the only difficult part in deciphering the key signature is knowing which note will be changed; to determine which note to adjust, all you do is note where the flat or sharp is placed. For example, if a flat is placed on the line where a G would go, then all G’s throughout the song are flat (unless changed by an accidental, which would be written into the music – see last section in this article on accidentals). Any number of notes could be flat or sharp based on the time signature. For example, the key signature for the key of Bb would show a flat sign on the lines for B and E, meaning both B’s and E’s throughout the song will be flat. Remember to refer to the diagram that names the notes for your lines and spaces to determine which notes will be flat or sharp.


Notes make up the music. Below is an explanation of possible notes you will encounter and the amount of time you will hold each note. The order of the notes in a song makes up the rhythm.

Sheet Music

•Whole – 4 beats.
•Half – 2 beats.
•Quarter – 1 beat.
•Eighth – of a beat.
•Sixteenth – of a beat.

If a note is dotted, then the note is multiplied by 1.5. (for example, a dotted half note gets 3 beats: 2 beats x 1.5 = 3)

Rests are a pause in the music. They follow the same pattern as the notes.

•Whole – 4 beats.
•Half – 2 beats.
•Quarter – 1 beat.
•Eighth – of a beat.
•Sixteenth – of a beat.

Slurs and Ties – Slurs and ties are notes connected by a curved line. A slur connects two different notes together either by a slide, bend, or hammer (pull-off) on the guitar. A tie connects two of the same notes, and it simply means to play the length of both the notes together without resting in between the two notes.

Time Signatures – Located at the beginning of the staff, time signatures are marked as fractions such as 4/4 (described above as stacked 4’s). The top number represents how many beats are in each measure, and the bottom number stands for which kind of note receives the beat. So, in 4/4 time, the top number is a 4, which tells us that there are 4 beats in each measure. The bottom note is also a 4, which tells us that the quarter note gets the beat (in a measure with 4 beats, you can fit in exactly 4 quarter notes).

Accidentals – Accidentals are any notes that have a flat (b), sharp (#) or natural sign in front of them in the music itself. Now, unless another accidental changes the sign (for example, you have a Bb immediately followed by a B natural), then any note in that key will remain changed until the measure is over. The easiest way to remember how accidentals affect notes is to remember that flats lower the notes step (1 fret), sharps raise the note step (1 fret), and naturals make the note normal again.

Although there are many elements of sheet music that you need to learn, learning music is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself as a guitar player. See the next article to match up all of this music information to the corresponding notes on your guitar (Beginner Guitar Lessons Part 7 – Notes on the Strings).

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