Basics of Reading Music


Top number tells you HOW MANY BEATS there are per measure

Bottom number tells you WHICH NOTE gets the beat

Example:  2/4 Time= Two beats. Quarter note gets the beat.

Commonly seen time signatures: C= common time (4/4 time), 4/4, 2/4, ¾, 6/8, 3/8, 12/8, 9/8, 5/8, 7/8


  1. Whole note=4 beats in 4/4 time

  2. Dotted half note=3 beats in 4/4 or ¾ time

  3. Half note=2 beats in 4/4, ¾, or 2/4 time

  4. Quarter note=1 beat in 4/4 time

  5. Eighth note= ½ a beat in 4/4, ¾, or 2/4 time

  6. Sixteenth note= ¼ of the beat in 4/4, ¾, or 2/4 time


Tells you how many flats or sharps are in the music.

Example: 3 flats in the key signature means that you are in E-flat major or C minor (I’ll discuss minor scales in the Intermediate section of this site).


H=half step W=whole step

Flats: lower a note by a half step

Sharps: raise a note by a half step

  1. Chromatic scale: made up of half steps

  2. Major scale: ascends W W H W W W H

         Example: C-D is a whole step, D-E is a whole step, E-F is a half step, etc.

  1. Arpeggios: broken chords. To play an arpeggio you play the 1st, 3rd, and 5th degrees of the scale.

    Example: C Major Scale is: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C

    The C Major Arpeggio is the 1st scale degree (C), third scale degree (E), the fifth scale degree (G), and you can include the octave (C).

  2. Enharmonic Spellings: All notes have more than one name.

    Example: C can be called C or B-sharp or D- double flat

  3. The diagram below is called the Circle of Fifths. It is used to see how many flats or how many sharps are in each major scale.

Circle of Fifths Majors Only


The following examples use a slight variation of the Eastman Counting System. The variation is 1-TI-te-ta instead of 1-TA-te-ta for sixteenth notes. 

Counting Chart Duple Meter

The last line consists of 32nd notes. You probably won’t see these for a while. Have no fear they’re just twice as fast as sixteenths.


Counting Chart Triplets


In the Eastman Counting System anything that doesn’t land on the main subdivision will be called “ta.”






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