This article teaches beginners how to learn note names by studying only three lessons. Each lesson covers small steps that are easy to remember and the Little Composers website published an interactive note chart for some extra practice. Both versions, bass and treble clef are available.
Before You Learn Note Names
This article assumes no prior knowledge of music notation. In case you have tried to learn the note names before but stopped because learning got too hard then this article is for you as well.
Look at the picture on top of this article and get a good look at everything you see. Don’t memorize any note names just yet but look at the shapes instead. Before we can learn note names, we must remove them from the picture so that our mind can start empty. Now picture a white sheet with nothing on it and proceed to lesson one.
Learn Note Names: Lesson 1
This first lessons is not about notes but rather examines all the different lines which hold the notes. Before we do that we need to identify the treble clef. You can find the treble clef at the left side where the lines begin as shown in the picture below.
Now let’s look at the five lines. In the above example, the long lines are subdivided into four spaces which are called measures o bars which is plural for bar. Did you ever hear about the 12 Bar Blues? The number 12 just means that the song is 12 bars long. If you have troubles with imagining measures or bars simply think of them as containers that are lined up side by side.
To complete this lessons, we need to recognize the vertical lines which show us where one bar (or container) ends and where the other one starts.
Learn Note Names: Lesson 2
One bar at the time
To make things easy, let’s focus on the first bar only with another look at those lines in more detail.
To make this really easy, let’s get rid of four lines and only keep the center line.
The center line is called the B line.
Remember this because from now on, we start out with finding that line.
Look at the image and focus on how the B note is exactly centered on the line. Half of the note is above the line and half of the note is below the line. This is very important to understand because from now on, we differentiate between two kinds of notes. Those who have a line in the center and those who do not (like the A and B).
A B C
Now we are learning the first three notes and you should not go on to the next lesson until you have the A, B and C memorized. Memorizing the A, B and C is easy because music notation has borrowed them from the alphabet. The alphabet starts with A B C D E F G and once you remember those seven names, you know all the note names that I know. The tricky part is that those same seven letters get reused over and over just as the image on top of this page shows. Do you see that the first three notes (top image) have a second note on top of it? And now you know why they share the same name.
Learn Note Names: Lesson 3
Let’s take a little break from learning the note names and do a bit of math. Don’t worry, it’s really simple. The most common form of time signature is the 4/4 one. What does that mean and why are we learning about them now?
As you already know, each note has a name. The name can only consist of A B C D E F and G.
What we need to understand is the length of a note. You could say that a note is a little like a person. A real person has two names. A first name and last (family) name. For example, my name is Ernst Renner and your name also has two parts or possibly more if you have a middle name. So for now, let’s say that a note has two names. The letter name and then the length name.
How long is a note?
Take a look at the four bars (remember bars from lesson 1?)
The first bar has one note which is just a round, hollow shape and there is only one note in that bar.
The second bar has two notes in it. The also have a round hollow shape but each note also has a line attached to it.
The third bar has four notes in it. The round shape is no longer hollow and each note has a line attached as well.
The fourth bar has eight notes in it which look almost like the notes in bar three but they are connected in two groups of four notes.
Study this list a few times:
- Round hollow shapes are called whole notes.
- Round hollow shapes with a line attached are called half notes.
- Solid filled round shapes with a line attached to it are called quarter notes.
- Solid filled round shapes with lines attached that are connected are called eight notes.
Look at the above image one more time and examine the blue numbers. Each measure or bar has the numbers 1 2 3 4 written which helps us to visualize the note length. The rules are simple. A whole note takes up the full space and is four counts (1 2 3 4) long. The half note, just as the name says, is half of that and each note is two counts long. Therefore, you are allowed to fill a bar with two half notes. The quarter notes each are one count long and it takes four quarter notes to fill a bar of music.
If this made sense to you then you can expand one these rules by mixing up half and quarter notes. For example, if a bar began with a half note, then you could add another half note or two quarter notes. The order does not matter. The quarter notes could be first followed by the half note or, the half note could even be in between but that is sneaky.
Learn Note Names: Lesson 4
Well, it’s time to leave you.
WHAT??? We just started and I only learned three notes. What about the rest?
Let’s switch back to math. You’ll see in a minute why. As you know, it all begins with 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 and 10. Once you knew those numbers, the teacher introduced the next set of numbers which continued from 10. Just as a refresher, they are 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 and 20.
The word eleven is a new word to remember. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen are also new and at first hard to remember. After fifteen the more familiar six(teen), seven(teen) and so forth make more sense which is why we learn those faster.
But wait a moment! What happens after 20?
Good news, counting gets a lot easier. Why does it get easier? Because there are hardly any new words to remember until you reach hundred. Every time you finish a block of ten, only the last one has to be remembered. Like thirty, forty, fifty and so on. Even those become predictable and do you know why that is? The magic word is “pattern”. A pattern is something that kind of repeats and because of that, we can take advantage of patterns. There are many patterns in music and there are many patterns in math.
Now I want you to count to 100 (and don’t cheat! because it is important)!!!
You only have to do this exercise once so, as you count, try and focus on patterns.
Do you notice how often you say one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight and nine? Quite a bit. The reason why I asked you to count ’till hundred and search for patterns is because if you were able to find all or most of the patterns, you will also be able to find all the note names just as easily.
Always start with what you already know.
A quick refresher. You know the center B line and you know that there are seven note names which are exactly the same as the first seven letters of the alphabet. If you string them together, you could say (just like you counted before) A B C D E F G – A B C D E F G – A B C D E F G and on and on and on forever.
If you were in front of a grand piano right now, you could open the lid, touch the very first key on the left side and do the A B C D E F G – A B C D E F G …. until you end up at the very last key which is the C.
Hint: If you just did that then you touched 52 white keys.
Now I would like you to take a piece of paper and a pencil and draw five long lines from left to right. All the way across the paper. Make them as long as you can and if you have trouble making them kind of straight then use a ruler. Space all five lines the same as seen in the images above. Don’t worry if they are not 100% yet. This is just so that you can begin to draw your memory map. Skip drawing the treble clef for now. It takes a bit of practice to make it perfect so it’s OK to just imagine that it is there plus, you probably need to use the space for notes.
Now start at the very right part of the page and draw the C note. If you need to, take a quick look at lessons 2 (A B C).
Make sure that you draw the C note in between the spaces. To the left of the C, draw the B note, again, just as in the image you studied in lesson 2. Now draw the A note. The A note is almost like the C note except that it is one white space lower. Stop drawing for a bit and take a look at your three notes. If the B is centered on the line and the A and C notes are exactly between the lines, then you did it right.
On the bottom of the page, write the note names exactly like this: A B C D E F G A B C
Now you have a little helper sheet to figure out the missing notes. Below the A, you need to draw the … what comes before the A? Take a look at the letters you just wrote. The note before the A is the G. Now draw in the G just like you drew the B. The G note is also centered on the line which means that if you can draw a B, you can also draw a G.
What comes before the G?
Finish all the way down to the A and then take a look and compare your drawing with the picture below.
Do you see what happens when you run out of lines? Simply draw short “helper lines” which are just long enough to hold the note nicely. This is how you extend the five long lines. Pay special attention when you draw the low A because you will need two short helper lines instead of one. Let’s repeat this. The first three notes (low A B C) need short helper lines.
If you do this exercise every day, you will memorize and know the note names and maybe teach other kids who struggle with music notation.
I hope that you have learned how important it is to see patterns. Patterns are a sort of a shortcut and the more patterns you notice, the faster you will learn.
If you need help with something I’d be happy to do answer your questions. Just go to the Little Composers support page and ask your question