Reading Music Part 2: Pitch

Last month, we talked about reading rhythms. Today, we’re going to talk about reading pitch.

Now that you know how to count notes and pitches, how do you figure out which string to pluck, which key to strike, or how high or low to sing? The location of the note on the staff tells you the PITCH of the note.


The staff is made up of five horizontal lines. Notice also the spaces between the lines. Each line and space from bottom to top represents a different pitch. You may also see notes above or below the staff, seemingly floating in mid-air (for example, “C” on the top staff and “E” on the bottom staff.) These sit on floating lines called LEDGER LINES.

Pitches are defined by a musical alphabet that goes from A to G and starts back over at A. This pattern can repeat over and over going both up and down. A flute may play an “A” that sounds very high in your ear, while an electric bass may play an “A” that sounds low. Both are “A”, but they are two different A notes.

SCIENTIFIC DIGRESSION: For the technical (a.k.a., geeky) reader, each pitch is defined by a frequency of sound. The “A” played by the flute has a frequency that is a multiple of the frequency of the “A” played by the electric bass.

The lines and spaces of the staff, then, are defined as follows:

Treble clef, LINES from bottom to top: E G B D F (“every good boy does fine”)
Treble clef, SPACES from bottom to top: F A C E (obviously, “face”)

Bass clef, LINES from bottom to top: G B D F A (“good boys do fine always”)
Bass clef, SPACES from bottom to top: A C E G (“all cows eat grass”)

The mnemonic devices may help you remember which line or space represents which note, but also notice the overall alphabetic pattern!

Look at the bass clef, starting from the bottom line: The first line is a G; the space immediately above it is an A; the line immediately about that is a B; the next space is a C, and so on. It follows the alphabet. If you remember that the lowest line on the bass clef is a G, and that the lowest line on the treble clef is an E, you can count up alphabetically from there. This will help you figure out those floating “ledger line” notes mentioned earlier, because the pattern continues both above and below the staff.

Accidentals (sharps (#) and flats (b)) will be represented either just to the left of a note, or in the KEY SIGNATURE (see below) of the song. The key signature is a collection of sharps or flats all the way to the left of the staff, immediately after the clef symbol. This is the guide for your entire piece. For instance, if you see a key signature that includes one flat, and it’s on a B note, then you know that you will play a B-flat EVERY time you see a B in the music.

If an individual note in the song has a # or b next to it, that specific note should be played sharp or flat (as applicable), but then goes back to a regular note in the next measure.

At MTMS, all standard and extended lesson students spend twenty minutes in our computer lab studying music theory, ear training, and rhythm training. Enroll in lessons and learn more about how to read and perform music. You’ll love every minute of it!

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