Music Theory – a beginner’s guide

Seen sheet music and wondered what all those dancing squiggles were or planning to start or started to learn to play an instrument and been wanting to learn the corresponding theory ?? This is a beginner’s guide to Western music theory.


Music theory remains the same , no matter what the instrument. If  you are learning music, it is a good idea to study the corresponding theory-things become much easier comparatively and it will benefit you in the long run. You can think of it as learning a new language too! “If music be the food of love, play on”…so lets get started.

Staff: Music is notated using staff. This consists of 5 lines and 4 spaces.We read a note by seeing its position on the staff.Ledger lines are used for notes that do not fit within the staff by adding more lines.A bracket connects the two staves, showing that they have to be read simultaneously.
Clefs are used to decide which position corresponds to which note. Most common clefs are Treble and Bass



timeThe position of a note in the staff defines its pitch and its duration defines how long a note is to be held.

signatureTime signature: tells us what the meter is and what note values comprise the beat. Eg: 3/4 means three (from 3 ) crotchets (from 4) in a bar. ie, the top note denotes the number of  beats in the bar and the bottom note denotes the type of beat.Each bar contains a certain time value

Key signature: Usually denotes the scale we are in.It depicts the notes to be sharpened or flattened throughout the piece. For eg, a piece in G major will have an F sharp

Rests: used to indicate various relative durations of silence

Pitch: defines a depth of sounds( high pitch-a baby’s squeal,  low pitch- a frog croaking)

Sharps and flats: Sharps are notes increased by a semi-tone or half-step from the original note denoted by # .Similarly, flats are notes decreased by a semi-tone denoted by a stylized b.

Tone: interval between two successive white notes on a  piano. Eg:C to D
Semi-tone: interval between a note and the note immediately next to it. Eg- E to F,   F to F#
Octave: meaning eighth in Latin, denotes the  interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double it’s frequency
Interval: difference in pitch of two sounds

Chord: combination of two or more notes

Scales: Sequence of notes differing in pitch according to a set formula of interval differences.  Eg for a Major scale, the  intervals for each note is given by:
T    T    ST   T    T    T    ST           (T: Tone,    ST: Semi-tone)
g scale

Notes on a piano for reference:

piano notes

More theory to be updated shortly.


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