Last Updated: December 11th, 2023

What Is Musical Notation? Learn About the Different Types of Musical Notes

What Is Musical Notation? Learn About The Different Types Of Musical Notes

To read and write music, one needs to learn and understand musical notation. These days, that should be easy, given that the best music notation software is easily accessible. Regardless of how you choose to journey through music, music theory will always provide a helpful guide. Do yourself a favor and make sure the first leg of your journey is all about mastering these basics.

What Is Musical Notation?

Written music makes use of signs and symbols called music notation. Otherwise known as music notes, these symbols let players know what notes to play and how long they should be played. Whether you’re playing music written by other people or writing music for other people to play, musical notation plays a significant part. That said, you can write down music in other ways, too.

A method known as rhythm notation is used specifically for percussion instruments like drums. String instruments like guitars, double bass, and the likes call on players to read the guitar tablature or tabs rather than the standard musical notes. A specific type of music notation we’ll look at today is Western notation or writing notes on a staff.

The Different Types of Musical Notes

To read music notes effectively, you have to learn how to recognize the different kinds of musical notes. Music notes are represented by the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, in that order but with no particular first note or endnote.

In between these notes are what are called accidentals. These are your sharps and flats, written right after a note. A flat following a note means the note must be played one semitone lower. On the other hand, a sharp indicates that the note is higher by one semitone. These notes should be easy enough to execute on a keyboard.

On a keyboard, players tend to start with C major because it is the most straightforward to play. Not only is it the most visually simple, but it has zero black keys. Then again, this might not follow for other instruments.

In written music, notes also come with the indication of how long they should be played. These symbols can come in the form of a minim, semibreve, quaver, and semiquaver, but those are just the basics.

Signs and Symbols To Learn and Understand

When learning about musical notation, you can expect to come across the following signs and symbols often. Learn and read about them early for a smoother journey ahead.


The staff (staves for plural) is the foundation of all music notations. It is where all the notes are written on. Composed of four spaces set between five horizontal lines, this graph is what allows for easier learning of musical notations. Other symbols, such as accidentals, rests, and music notes, are arranged in a staff so that they’re easier to read and execute.

Music notes are written either on the five lines or between them (in the spaces) on the staff. There are instances when notes are found above or below the staff itself. In such cases, you can add what’s called ledger lines.


The clef is what you place at the start of the staff. Two of the most common ones are known as the bass clef and treble clef.

The Great Stave

As the instrument with the widest musical range, the piano requires more than just a staff to accommodate notes. Piano music usually calls for staves in the following forms:

  • Bass stave is the bottom stave marked with a bass clef. Its notes are normally middle C and lower and are played with the left hand. In a bass clef, mid-C is found on the initial ledger line right above the stave.
  • Treble stave is the stave at the top marked with a treble clef. It has mid-C or higher notes and is played with the right hand. The middle C is found on the first ledger right below the stave.

Learning To Read Notes

There are quite a few hacks for learning the types of music notes. One of the more popular ones is by using mnemonics. It keeps the musical notation symbols and notes in your memory with the help of the following phrases and letter representations:

  • Every Green Bus Drives Fast (E, G, B, D, and F): notes that fall on treble clef lines
  • FACE: how notes in the treble clef spaces spell
  • Good Burritos Don’t Fall Apart (G, B, D, F, and A): notes that fall on bass clef lines
  • All Cows Eat Grass (A, C, E, and G): notes on bass clef spaces

Learn Musical Notation Today!

We’ve barely scratched the surface on musical notation, but this brief introduction will help get you off to a great start. You’re going to need it if you are looking to play an instrument or pursue something in music someday.

A background in musical notation is something you can fall back on in any part of your journey. After all, no matter what field you are in, it all goes back to the basics.