Tab may be easy to read and quick to learn, but it is a shortcut to playing guitar. If you want to play with a jazz group or other musicians that aren’t guitarists or drummers, then you will need to know how to read real music notation - yes, the black dots. In music notation there are two types of "clefs." One is bass clef and the other is treble clef.
Treble clef is used to show higher pitched notes for instruments such as guitar, flute, violin and the right hand of the piano. Bass clef is used to show lower notes, usually for instruments like the bass guitar, baritone, tuba and the left hand of the piano. Knowing the names of the notes on the fret board and on the treble and bass clefs are both important. Lets take a look at the notes and symbols that come with music notation.
Notes are the black dots and lines in music that tell us what note to play and how long to play that note. First let's talk about rhythm. Rhythm is the length or value or time that each note gets when played. To keep things simple, we will assume that we are in 4/4 time, 4 beats per measure, and the quarter note gets the beat. Let's start on the left and talk about what these notes mean.
Whole note – A whole note gets 4 beats and will take up a whole measure. If you're tapping your toe, play a note and let it ring until your foot has tapped four times. One, two, three, four.
Half note – A half note is half as long as a whole note, and lasts half a measure. Tap your toe only two times for this one. One, two…
Quarter note – The note that is third from the left is a quarter note. Quarter notes get one beat and only take up a quarter of a measure, so only one tap for this one.
To move on to the next set of notes, you will have to learn to count half beats. Some notes are so short that they only last half a beat or less. To count these notes, we say one-and-two-and-three-and... The numbers are the downbeats (When your toe is traveling down and touches the ground.) and the "and" is the upbeat, or when your toe is at the peak of the tap. On the numbers, you're toe should be down, on the "and" your toe should be up.
Half beats aren’t the only thing to know, there are also 1/16 beats, too. To count these notes, we add in "ee" and "ah" between each number and the word "and." To count 4 sixteenth notes we would say "one ee and ah." Anthing after this we would continue as "three ee and ah four ee and" … etc., all while making sure that the numbers one, two, three, four are being said at the same pace as your foot is tapping. Sixteenth notes are pretty fast, so this should be a mouth full. Now that we have the basic notes out of the way, we can talk about the remaining notes.
Eighth note – The 4th and 5th notes are both eighth notes. The first one is right side up and the second eighth note is upside down. Eighth notes get half of a beat and there are a total of eight in a whole measure. Eighth notes are half of a quarter note.
Rests are the equivalent of notes but instead of playing pitches, you play… nothing. So, a whole rest would be a whole measure of nothing! From left to right the rests are as follows: whole, half, quarter, eighth, eighth, and sixteenth. The two eighth rests are mirrors of each other and can be used in either direction. Each rest takes on the same value or length as the corresponding note.
This is only half of learning musical notation! The other half is learning what pitches to play as well as a few other symbols. And you will need to know what notes are on what lines and spaces as well. The next lesson will take care of that! If you have any questions about notes and rests, feel free to visit the GLI forums.