Introduction to reading music notes

Music Notes - symbols, sounds & silence

If reading music notes has been confusing – it doesn’t have to be.

Think of it as learning a language.

But, Instead of reading vowels, consonants and words – you are READING MUSIC NOTES.

There are 2 Common Obstacles you will face in reading music notes.

  1. INFORMATION OVERLOAD. Too much stuff at once.

Rhythm is the most fundamental element of reading music notes. If you don’t get it right from the start, understanding music notation will always be a struggle.

That doesn’t have to happen.

break it down to the basics

Remember – keep it simple.

The only thing you need to know is reading music notes tells you

  • When to make a sound (Note)

  • When to be silent (Rest)


  • Music is sound.
  • You can’t see sound.
  • How do you put sound on paper?


  • RHYTHM –  Notate sound and silence.
  • MELODY – Notate the tone/pitch of sound.
  • HARMONY – Stack the  tonal pitches into chords.

The key is to learn how to play notes “in time”.

The Whole note is the largest note we have. Generally speaking, it gets 4 counts. It looks like a circle that has been pressed. © 2018 Vibe Guy Music, LLC.

Whole Note

The half note is exactly half of the whole note. It looks like a circle with a straight line attached to its' side standing straight up. It gets 2 counts. A whole note can be equally divided into 2 half notes. © 2018 Vibe Guy Music, LLC.

Half Note

The quarter note gets one count. It looks like a half note, but the circle is blacked in. 4 quarters equal a whole - so 4 quarter notes equal a whole note. © 2018 Vibe Guy Music, LLC.

Quarter Note

The eighth note is exactly half of a quarter note. 2 eighths equal a quarter, 4 eighths equal a half, and 8 eighths equal a whole. The eighth note looks like a quarter note, with a small flag attached to the end of the vertical line.

Eighth Note

Timing is Everything

It is important to learn note values in the context of a steady beat.

With a steady beat, you feel/hear how the notes relate to each other.

Reading music notes should be learned “in time” from the very beginning – not as an afterthought.

A steady beat is the heartbeat of music. Without it, you can’t sing, perform or compose with any success.

The Math Always Makes Sense

Pro perspective

“If you don’t have the time, it’s very hard to make music out of it. So you should really focus on time and where notes fall.”

Robben Ford,  American blues, jazz & rock guitarist

Reading Music Notes Is Like Counting Your Money

It requires some basic math.

Nothing too difficult like algebra or calculus – but just plain and simple arithmetic… basic stuff!

The Math Never Changes

A Whole can be divided into 2 Halves.

2 Halves can be divided into 4 quarters.

Without that, your money would never be consistent. And reading music notes wouldn’t make sense.

This is why


2 + 2 ALWAYS = 4

Rests – When to be Silent

Whole Rest

Whole Rest

Half Rest

Half Rest

Quarter Rest

Quarter Rest

Eighth Rest

Eighth Rest

Every note has an equivalent rest.

The math always works. You don’t have to guess.

This is only an introduction to reading music notes.

For information on the evolution of music notation, check out this history of music notation.