Reading standard “staff” notation

Reading standard “staff” notation, or “music” as it is often called, may seem daunting if you do not know how yet, but it is much much less to learn than say… a new language!… and is the best and most complete system we have to date.

*See our “non-readers” page if you are resistant, and worried that learning to read might “suck the soul” out of your playing.

Here’s the basics: “Staff” notation is currently a five line system, having changed and developed over the last 300 years or so from a one line system.  The dots, or “heads” of the notes are placed rather exactly, either on a line with the line going right through the head, or in the spaces between the lines.  The higher the head on the staff, the higher the note or pitch is…. lower, and the note sounds …lower!  Simple as that.

The whole first position of the violin fingerboard lays quite nicely on the staff with only the low G string notes going below the staff on little one-note temporary extra lines called “ledger” lines.  Ledger lines can go above the staff for higher notes if need too.  All in all, there’s only about 16 different notes to learn in the 1st position.  That’s definitely easier that learning a foreign language!

Rhythmic values, or how long to hold each note, are notated by solid or hollow heads, or with flags or beams connecting the faster notes.  In general, the blacker the page, the faster the music!  See our Rhythm reading page for more on this.

Here’s a fiddler’s “cheat sheet” covering every 1st position note for those who want to kind of figure it out on their own.  These will never change, so once you know them, you know them for life!staff cheat sheet

It is no secret that I think learning to read is a great learning tool.  It is absolutely NOT a necessary skill to have to be a good musician, but sure can help you learn things a lot faster!.. which, I guess, in turn, could make you a better musician too.  It is up to you and what you feel is best for you.

Most charts here on the site try to accommodate all types of learners and readers with not only staff, but fiddler’s tab and note names and finger number systems wherever possible.  There are a few cases though (like in Level 3 A-toodz) where it was just way too jumbled up looking for me to include all those systems on the page.  For those instances, non-readers will just have to figure the notes out with our cheat sheet above, or by ear after listening to me play in the examples.

If you are ready to start learning how to read, I recommend Hal Leonard Corp.’s “Essential Elements 2000” book.  With it, a focused adult learner can learn to read within a few weeks time!  It’s a good deal too for only $8.99 that includes a CD of backing tracks and free software (like tempo adjustment and more)!


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