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How To Read Sheet Music

Guitar Theory, Ear Training, & Reading

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Being able to read sheet music is a great skill that every guitar player should at least try to acquire. Reading on the guitar can be pretty difficult for some players. Many guitar players start trying to learn how to read sheet music only to get frustrated and quit. In this guitar theory lesson, we'll take a look at the common elements you'll come across when reading sheet music. I'll also go into some more detail about the most important ones. Hopefully after this lesson, you'll have a basic understanding of how to read sheet music on the guitar. Try this lesson if you want to learn how to read guitar tabs.

The Staff: The lines and spaces that hold the notes.


Ledger Lines: The lines above or below the staff that span beyond your E (4th string, 2nd fret) and F (1st string, 1st fret).

Ledger Lines

Treble Clef: In sheet music for the guitar, you'll see that the treble clef circles the G note.

Treble Clef

The Lines: The acronym to remember the notes on the lines is Every Good Boy Does Fine.


The Spaces: The acronym for remembering the spaces is the word FACE.


Key Signatures: This tells you which key you're in by indicating which notes will be sharp or flat.

Key Signature

Accidentals: Notes that don't naturally occur in the key are marked with a sharp, natural, or flat symbol.


Time signatures: The top number tells you how many beats are in a measure. To understand what the lower number indicates, replace the top number with a one, then the fraction you're left with will tell you which note gets the beat. In this case, there will be 4 quarter notes per measure.

Time Signature

Bars: The horizontal lines that divide the sheet music into measures.


Notes: There are many different notes, but the 3 most common ones you'll see are whole notes (4 beats), half notes (2 beats), and quarter notes (1 beat). You can keep dividing them down to get even shorter beats. There are eighth notes (1/2 beat), sixteenth notes (1/4 beat), and even thirty-second notes (1/8 beat).


Rests: Rests are very similar to notes, but they indicate where you won't play. Divided into different numbers of beats. The most common are whole note rests (4 beats), half note rests (2 beats), and quarter note rests (1 beat). These can also be divided down further.


Dots: If you see a dot next to a note, all you have to do is take half the value of the note and add it to that note. For example, a half note with a dot next to it when be counted as 3 beats.


Ties: These tell you to add the notes together and play them as if they were one note.


Slurs: Slurred notes are to be played legato. This means you'll use hammer-ons and pull-offs.


Repeat Signs: When you see this sign, it's telling you to go back to the first two dots that you saw, and play from there.

Repeat Signs

String & Finger Indications: If you are meant to play a note on a certain string, there will be a number above the note telling you which string you're supposed to use. If you are meant to play a note with a certain finger, there will be a number beside the note telling you which finger you should use.

String & Finger Indications

Once you have learned how to read sheet music, you should learn how to read chord diagrams, how to read guitar rhythms, how to read guitar tabs, and how to read chord charts!