Dansm's Musical Notation for Guitar
Introduction to
Standard Musical Notation

Standard musical notation can be very confusing for guitarists, because they do not study it or frequently use it. However, a familiarity with standard notation and how it works is very helpful for guitarists. This page will outline the basics of musical notation. Unfortunately, learning standard notation consists of memorizing the positions of all the notes and what each note symbol represents. You must take the time to concentrate on what each note is if you want to learn. And remember, if you really don't need it, don't bother.
First off, I will explain the "interface" used to express standard notation. You have probably seen something like the image below in a tab book:

Listen to this example:

Here are the names of the pitches corresponding to each line and space. Notice they simply go up in alphabetical order, moving to A after G.

Listen to this example:
To make a note flat, simply put the flat sign () in front of it.
To make a note sharp, simply put the sharp sign (#) in front of it.
OK, let's jump into some examples. This image shows four notes. Their names are indicated on the picture.

Listen to this example:
The F is an F# because of the key signature.
This image shows some different note lengths and some chords.

Listen to these examples:

The chord names are shown in red and the actual note names are shown below the notes. The first key signature has one sharp (F#), so the example is in the key of G. The second key signature has one flat (B), so that example is in the key of F. You notice that there are notes that look different from the ones we have been seeing. This is how timing and note lengths are indicated in music. To learn the lengths of the notes shown here, check out my page on meter and note lengths.
If you want to play notes above or below the staff, ledger lines are used. These are shown in the image below, with some of the notes they represent. The note names just continue above and below the staff, so there isn't anything really confusing about it.

Listen to this example:

That's about it for standard notation. More stuff will be discussed in other lessons, like key signatures, meter and note lengths, and where these notes appear on the fretboard. Good luck, and remember that if you don't immediately remember all these note names, just practice and it will come with time.
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1997 Daniel E. Smith. Last updated 6-22-97