Chester Studio Singers

Basic Musical Notation: Cheat Sheet

The Staff

The Staff The staff, consistings of 5 lines with four spaces between them is what musical notes are presented on.


Different pitches are named by letters. The musical alphabet is, in ascending order by pitch, A, B, C, D, E, F and G. After G, the cycle repeats going back to A. Each line and space on the staff represents a different pitch. The lower on the staff, the lower the pitch of the note.


Treble Staff The treble clef begins with the first line as E. Each successive space and line is the next letter in the musical alphabet. The staff ends with the last line as an F. A phrase to remember the lines is: Every Good Boy Deserves Fun. To remember the spaces, just remember that they spell FACE starting from the bottom.
Bass Staff With the bass clef, the lines from bottom to top are: G, B, D, F, A (Good Boys Don't Fight Anyone), and the spaces are A,C,E,G (All Cows Eat Grass).


markers The vertical lines on the staff mark the measures or bars, which are used to divide and organize music.

Note Durations

Hierarchy of note lengths
  1. whole note
  2. half notes (half the duration of a whole note)
  3. quarter notes
  4. eighth notes
  5. sixteenth notes
Sixteenth notes and eighth notes Eighth notes (left) and sixteenth notes (right) may also look like this.

Dotted Notes

A dotted note is equivalent to one and a half its original
length A dot beside a note increases its duration by half its original value. For example, half notes, in 4/4 time, are worth 2 beats. When a dot is placed next to the half note, the resulting duration is three beats. The curved line in the picture is a tie. Ties connect notes that are the same pitch together to create a sustained note.


Rests are simply places where the musician does not play/sing. Rests have equivalent values to corresponding notes of duration, as shown below.
Restswhole rest  Restseighth rest
Restshalf restRestssixteenth rest
Restsquarter rest

Sharps, flats and naturals

sharps Sharps raise the pitch of the note by a half tone.
Flats Flats lower the pitch of the note by a half tone.
Naturals Naturals cancel out any previous sharps or flats.

Ties and Slurs

Ties and slurs Ties and slurs connect two or more notes together. Ties connect notes of the same pitch, forming essentialy one longer note. Slurs smoothly connect notes of different pitch.


Pianissimo pianissimo (very softly)
Piano piano (softly)
Mezzopiano mezzo piano (moderately soft)
Mezzoforte mezzo forte (moderately loud)
Forte forte (loudly)
Fortissimo fortissimo (very loudly)
Crescendo Crescendo (gradually become louder)
Decresceno Decrescendo or diminuendo (gradually become softer)


Beginning and ending repeats These are the begin and end repeat signs. When you reach the second, go back to the first and repeat the music.

Time Signatures

4/4 TimeThe top number indicates how many beats there are per measure. The bottom number tells what kind of note gets the beat.

In this example, 4/4 time, there are 4 beats per measure, and the quarter note (bottom 4) gets the beat. In 3/4 time, the quarter note would still get the beat, but there would only be 3 beats in a measure. In 6/8 time, the eighth note gets the beat, and there are 6 beats to a measure.


Staccato Staccato — The note is short and detatched.
Accent Accent — Hit the note harder and louder.
Marcato Marcato — Combination of staccato and accent, provides a sharp sound.
Tenuto Tenuto — Hold the note for its full value.
Sforzando Sforzando — A sudden, strong accent.
Fermata Fermata — Hold the note longer, approximately twice its value, or until conducted to stop.

That's it!   smile

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