Read Guitar Sheet Music
Music notation is standard for all music instruments, including the guitar. While reading Guitar Tab is easier for beginners, for advanced music you must know how to also read sheet music. The symbol on the left is the Treble Clef, and identifies the document as sheet music. Note that piano (and bass guitar) music also uses the Bass Clef which we are not going to cover here. The Treble Clef is often followed by two numbers, in this case they are 4 over 4. This is the Time Signature for this music, the simple explanation is the top number indicates the number of beats per measure, and the lower number indicates that quarter notes (one-fourth, explained below) are used to mark each beat. This 4 over 4 time signature is used very often, in fact it is also called Common Time and may be indicated by a large C which means the same thing as 4 over 4.
The music notes are written on Ledger Lines (the horizontal lines), and the music is broken up into chunks called Measures. Each measure in turn is broken up into Beats, in the above example Common Time (4/4) is used, there are 4 beats per measure. Each ledger line and space (between lines) indicate different music notes as shown above (marked in red on the left side). Music notes are written ON a line, or BETWEEN lines (in the spaces). The lowest ledger line is the E, the space following it is the F, the line following it is the G, and so on. You can keep drawing ledger lines above and below the existing lines, if your music has higher or lower Octaves. The first measure in the above example has a Whole Note symbol (hollow circle O). In this case, it is sitting on the E line, so it is a whole E note. Whole notes last for the duration of the measure, in this case 4 beats. In other words, play the note and HOLD IT for 4 beats (don't pick it four times). The next measure shows the Half Note symbol, which is the hollow cirle (O) with a stem. Note the stem can go either up or down, whichever is more convenient depending on its position on the lines. The Half Note takes half as many beats as the whole note, in this case it would half of 4, which is 2 beats. Thus we have two half notes in the second measure, each of which takes 2 beats each (totalling 4 beats, the length of the measure). Again, you have to HOLD the half note for two beats (don't pick the note twice), then pick it and hold it for the next 2 beats. The two dots at the start of measure 1, and at the end of measure 2, indicate Repeat. This means you would repeat that section when playing this piece of music.
The above example shows the Quarter Note symbol in measure 3, which is a filled in circle with a stem. The quarter note is one-quarter of the whole note, which in this case is 4 divided by 4 = 1 beat. Remember the 4/4 Time Signature that has the lower 4, indicating a quarter note marks each beat. Therefore we have four quarter notes in measure 3 that provide four beats. The stem again, can go up or down, whichever direction is more convenient or readable. Now we have the quarter note providing each beat, but we can jam in TWO notes for each beat. This is the Eighth Note (which is one half of the quarter note) which is symbolized with a filled in circle with a stem and a tail that curls. In music we count "one AND two AND three AND four AND" to accommodate the quarter notes. In measure 4 above, beat 1 has two quarter notes (ONE AND shown as 1 +). Beat 2 also has a pair of quarter notes, these have been drawn with a line joining their stems - this format is more readable and is often used when more than one quarter note is written together. Beat 3 introduces a new concept in music, the Rest (or SILENCE) - with a pair of Eighth Rests, indicating that no notes are to be played for that beat (3 +). Beat 4 has a Quarter Rest, which is functionally identical to the pair of eighth rests we just saw in beat 3.
Sharps and flats are also written on sheet music, either next to each note or after the time signature as a Key Signature. That is an advanced level of information which is best learned from a formal guitar teacher and is not being covered here. The basic sheet music reading tutorial above should be sufficient to get you started. The previous Guitar Tab section is easier for beginners to play almost any piece of guitar music, and Advanced Guitar Techniques is next to show you how to get even more sounds out of your guitar.
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