• Lesson

Reading Standard Notation

Reading Standard Music Notation for Bass

Almost every language has its own written form. Standard music notation is the written form of the language of music.

Breaking Down Written Music

Music can be boiled down to two basic components: sound and time.

Sound consists of:

  • Pitch
  • Dynamics
  • Timbre

Pitch refers to notes, or groups of notes. Dynamics refers to how loud or soft a sound is. Timbre (pronounced “TAM-burr”) refers to the tonal "color" of a sound. For example, the tonal color of a piano sounds different from the tonal color of a trumpet even when playing the exact same note.

Time consists of:

  • Attack
  • Duration

Attack refers to when a sound occurs. Duration refers to how long the sound occurs.

Graphing Sound and Time

Standard music notation uses a basic graph to notate what sounds occur at what times. This form of music notation works the same way for all musical instruments. Since this form of notation is common to all instruments, it is used among musicians as a basis for talking about, recording, and describing music. Many of the terms and concepts used in music theory and by musicians can be learned and understood by learning to read standard music notation.

In standard music notation time is shown going from left to right. Pitch is shown going up and down. Other symbols and markings are used to depict the other aspects of music such as dynamics.


In the next lesson on music notation I will explain the main features of notating pitch...

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