How to Read and Play Sheet Music (Lesson 4)

During this first lesson we will at least try to read all these characters, which composers write. You already are able to tell one note from another and define their duration, but this is not enough to play a real musical composition.

First try to play this simple song for children – “Baa – Baa Black sheep”.

“Baa – Baa Black sheep” Sheet music

If you succeed in playing it – my congratulations. Let`s complicate the task – try to play some notes with your right hand and others with your left.

Let`s go on. As you saw in this song, the staff begins with the treble clef. But when we play compositions with two hands the right hand usually plays notes in the treble clef and the left hand – in the bass clef, where notes are located in a different way. So, let`s study, how they are arranged.

The bass clef (or the F clef) is located on the 4th line of the staff, where the note F of the small octave is situated. Two thick dotes should be written below and above this 4th line.

Bass clef

Have a look, how are written notes in bass and treble clefs. I hope, you`ll see the difference.

Notes in bass and treble clefs

And this is the same song “Baa – Baa Black sheep”, but written in the bass clef.

“Baa – Baa Black sheep” in bass clef

Is everything OK? If yes, then let`s try to combine both clefs (bass and treble) in one composition. It will be a little complicated first, perhaps as reading on two different languages at the same time. But regular practice will help you.

It`s time for the first example. I advise you not to try to play with two hands at once, it is on possible for an ordinary person. First study the notes for one hand, than for the other, and only when you know them well enough – try to play them together. So, let`s start. Again the same song:“Baa – Baa Black sheep” for two hands

Our previous examples had very simple rhythm. Let`s study more complicated rhythmic patterns. Don`t be afraid, they are not so complicated as they seem to be.

Earlier we played with notes of equal duration. In addition to these main types of note lengths, which we`ve already learned, there also exist some symbols which make notes sound longer.

They are:

  1. Dot, which adds to the note a half of its normal duration. It is put to the right of the note.

Notes with dots worksheet

  1. 2 dots or double dots, which add to the note a half and a quarter of its ordinary length.

Double dots

  1. A tie – a curved line, which connects two notes of the same pitch and name and shows, that they must be played together. The total length of the note is the sum of lengths of these two notes.
  2. A slur looks the same, but it connects different notes to show, that they should be played without separation.

Tied notes

  1. Fermata is a sign of not fixed lengthening of the note. Not for hours, of course, just for some additional seconds. The sign looks like a small semicircle with a dot on the middle and is put above or under the note.

Fermata sign

Let me also remind you, how rest signs look like.


To make rests longer you may also use dotes and fermata as for the notes. Only ties are not used with rest signs. If you need, you can put several rests one after another.

Let`s use the things we`ve learned today in action:

Song “We wish you a Merry Christmas”

And finally I want to tell you about signs, which help to make note sheets shorter.

Reprise – a sign of repetition of the whole composition or a part of it. If this repetition is made without any changes, instead of writing the text twice the composer writes it once and puts a reprise at the end of the repeated part.

Reprise signs

If there are some changes in the repeated text, above those bars, which are changed, are put horizontal square brackets with numbers named “first-time bars” and “second-time bars”; “first and second endings” or  “volta brackets”. When we play the repeated part for the first time, we use the 1st volta, when we repeat – the 2nd etc.

Volta brackets

Let`s look at the example. We play a composition from the very beginning till the reprise sign, start from the beginning again and when we reach the 1st volta we “jump” to the second. There can be as many voltas as the composer wants  – 2, 3, 5 or even more.

There also exist voltas for repetition and for the ending. They are mostly used for songs. Usually the couplets have the same melody, so there is no need in writing the same text many times. For couplets from the 1st to the penultimate we use the volta for repetition and for the last – the ending volta.

And now study attentively the note text, notice, that the time signature 4/4 (there are 4 crochet beats in the bar), there is only one key signature – B flat and there is a reprise sign – and start playing.

Titanic My Heart Will Go On