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Reading music involves some effort, but it does not require years of schooling to be able to follow basic music, either for singing or for playing a single-note instrument. Following are the basic steps to get you started on reading music with ease.

On a sheet of music, you'll find rows of horizontal lines, grouped in sections of five. Each section of five will be grouped with one other section of five, connected by a { running the length of all ten lines. This combination is called a GRAND STAFF. The top five lines in a grand staff are called the TREBLE STAFF, which is indicated by a TREBLE CLEF, which looks somewhat like an ampersand, or &. The bottom five lines in a grand staff are called the BASS STAFF, which is indicated by a BASS CLEF (which resembles the top portion of a question mark followed by a colon, or ?:.

Moving across the music horizontally, you will notice that it is regularly broken up by a thin vertical line. Each section between vertical lines is called a MEASURE.

Musical NOTES are fairly simple to follow. First, there is a WHOLE NOTE, which is just an open circle. Then there is a HALF NOTE, which is an open circle with a line protruding either up or down. Next is a QUARTER NOTE, which is a filled-in circle with a line protruding up or down. Other notes include EIGHTH NOTE, which is a quarter note with a flag on its vertical line, and the THREE-QUARTER NOTE, which is an eighth note with a dot after it. There are additional notes to indicate smaller increments, such as sixteenth and thirty-second notes, but those will not be discussed at this time. Suffice to say that each additional flag will double the bottom number of the note (i.e., two flags is a 16th note; three is a 32nd).

For each note, there is a corresponding REST. A WHOLE REST looks like a flat button hanging from the -bottom- of a line. A HALF REST looks like a flat button resting on the -top- of a line. A QUARTER REST is a squiggly line with an open circle at the bottom. An EIGHTH REST is a tilted s.

The KEY SIGNATURE will be indicated by FLATS (b) or SHARPS(#) just after the treble and bass clef. For basic sight-reading/ singing purposes, key signatures will not be discussed here. You only need to worry about flats and sharps as they appear -within- music.

The TIME SIGNATURE is indicated by a fraction, just after the key signature. The most common time is 4/4. (The / is left out in music). This is called COMMON TIME, and may also be indicated by a C. CUT TIME, or 2/2 time, can be indicated by a C with a vertical slash through it.

In the time signature, the top number indicates the number of counts in a measure. The bottom number indicates which note gets a single count. So, in 4/4 time, there are four beats to a measure, and a 4 note (quarter note) gets one count, while in 2/2 time, there are only two beats to a measure, and the 2 note (half note) gets one beat.

Music reads C, D, E, F, G, A, B. Look at the treble clef. Starting with the bottom of the five lines, you would read -upward- E, G, B, D, F for the lines (or Every Good Boy Does Fine). For the spaces in between, you would read (again, upward) F, A, C, E (FACE). The space directly below the E is D. If C is indicated, it will be on an added mini-line below the E.

Now look at the bass clef. Starting with the bottom of the five lines here, you would read upward G, B, D, F, A for the lines (or Good Boys Do Fine Always). For the spaces, you would read upward A, C, E, G (or All Cows Eat Grass). If there is a note on the space above the top A line, it would be B. If there is a mini-line above the A with a note on it, it would be a C... the same C that is on the bottom of the treble clef.

Generally, women sing on the treble clef and men sing on the bass clef. In an all-male group or all female-group, however, the higher voices will take the treble clef, regardless of gender.

Once you know the trick of it, you don't even have to know the name of the note to sightsing (although you would if you were reading music to play an instrument). Instead, you note the INTERVALS, or spaces between the notes. For example, if you start on E and then jump to A, you have an interval of three whole notes (we're leaving flats and sharps out until the very end). The same interval shows up at the beginning of "Taps". It's also commonly used for the "Tally-ho" call. The "trick" is to learn to recognize each interval by associating it with a song until you have that interval memorized. A list of tips will follow at the very end of this article.

A sharp raises music one-half a step. So, for example, C# (C sharp) is between C and D. A flat, on the other hand, lowers music one-half a step. Db (D flat) is also between D and C and is, in fact, the same note as C#. A NATURAL (indicated by a # missing the bottom left leg and the top right arm) merely negates a sharp or natural in the key signature for -one measure-. To see what a sharp or flat sounds like, try humming "Doe a deer...". Stop. You just hummed (if you were on-key) in whole-steps. Now hum "doe" again, but try to find the note between "a" and "doe". That is either "doe" sharped or "a" flatted!

You are basically ready to read music. Here are song tips to match to some of the intervals to get you started. Try to come up with your own matches for the others:

*C-D (one step up): "Doe a (deer)"
*D-C (one step DOWN): "Mary had (a little lamb)"
*C-E (two steps up): "Oh, when (the Saints)"
*E-C (two steps down): "Swing low (sweet chariot)"
*C-F (three steps up): "(Day) is done" (Taps)
*C-A (five steps up): "There's a (place for us)"
(from West Side Story)