How to read music — Pitch

The only background knowledge you need when learning how to read music is a basic understanding of the fact that some notes sound higher than others — this difference is called pitch.

The pitch of a note is the frequency of the sound. High, low, and middle pitch are all part of the melody of music. Pitch is named in the Anglo-American culture using letters A to G, which represents one octave. After the G note, another octave starts again at A. An octave is the group of seven notes immediately following one another. This could be C to G, D to C, E to D, and so on. There are not two of the same note in one octave.

Pitch is written using the five lines and four spaces of the staff. The notes go up in sound, or pitch, as you climb through A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. After G comes A again, which has the same tone as the first A, but higher in pitch as it is a higher octave.

As the notes are drawn on each higher line or space, the sound goes up in pitch. The notes drawn on each line or space going down mean the pitch gets lower. 
Of course, there are more than one set of A to G’s on any musical instrument. The clef indicated at the beginning of each staff determines which pitch is written, or which octave is to be played. The treble clef marks the notes that are higher in pitch, and the bass clef represents the notes that are lower in pitch.

“The Middle” is marked by the middle C, which sits in between the bass and treble clefs. Notes above the middle C will normally be on the staff of the treble clef, and those below middle C are normally drawn on the bass cleff staff.

In some cases the notes will extend beyond the range of the staff, as with the middle C. To make reading music easier, short lines called ledger lines are added to indicate whether a note is a “line note” or a “space note”. When there are too many ledger lines added to the staff, it is recommended to go to a different clef so the notes are easier to read.