Basic Music Terminology


graphic showing music staff, music terminology and music notation

Music Staff: The treble clef music staff is five lines with four spaces between the lines. The lines and space correspond with the note names. Both the lines and spaces are counted from the bottom up. A good trick for memorizing the names of the spaces is, they spell F A C E from the bottom up. The trick for the lines is an old saying that goes, "Every Good Boy Deserves Favor", again from the bottom up. With the use of your Fretless Finger Guide™, you will easily learn the location of the notes on your instrument as you learn to memorize the note positions on the music staff.

Treble Clef Sign: The treble clef sign shows where the musical piece begins. Unless you play upright bass you will always see the treble clef sign at the beginning of a piece of music.

Key Signature: The Key signature tells you what key the song is written. Every song is composed in a particular key that corresponds with the "main" or root note of the song. The root note will dictate the chord progression and scale patterns used in the song. If no key signature is shown, the song is in the key of C major. This example shows the key of D major.

Time Signature: The Time signature is shown at the beginning of the song to tell the musician how many beats are in a measure. This is represented by the top number. The bottom number indicates the duration of each beat. For example:
•A 2/4 signature gets 2 beats per measure (each quarter note receives 1 beat).
•A 3/4 signature gets 3 beats per measure (each quarter note receives 1 beat).
•A 4/4 signature gets 4 beats per measure (each quarter note receives 1 beat).
Combinations of rests and notes must equal the time value of the number of beats in the measure. Timing is everything. Listen to the song you want to play. It will help you tune into the timing of the song.

Tempo: The speed a song is played at. Tempo is a very important component of a song. Sometimes sheet music will indicate the tempo "fast, moderate, or slow" and will give a "beats per minute" value to go along with the written description. Sometimes its easier to listen to a particular song to get a feel for it's tempo.

Measures and Bar Lines: A tempo can be broken down into easily understood segments. These segments have a designated number of beats, which comprise a measure. Beats are usually played in groups of three and four. This group is a measure. The measure is divided by bar lines.

Repeat Signs: When you see this sign go back toward the beginning of the piece until you see a similar repeat sign, then play that section again.

Sharps and Flats: On the Fretless Finger Guide™ you will see that there is a square box with two colors in between the round or oval whole notes. These boxes represent the sharps and flats. The up pointing "triangle" is a sharp when you are ascending a scale (going up in tone). The down pointing "triangle" is a flat when you are descending a scale (going down in tone). The color of the triangle corresponds with the color of the related whole note. As you progress into more involved pieces of music you will see that composers use sharps and flats. These notes are a "half tone" up or down from the parent whole note.

graphic showing relation of music notes and time values for different time signatures