Contents: Start with Staffs

Playing Notes on the Keyboard

Note Values and Rhythm

Time Signatures


More about Note Values and Rhythm


Minor Key Signatures and Scales


In basic terms, a musical composition should have a clear beginning that leads to the body of the piece (often called the development section) and an effective ending, Many songs feature an introduction or verse section as an opener-leading to the chorus or main section of the piece, Classical compositions use various conventions for arranging the individual sections of a work,

Let's look at the different markings that guide the musician through the sections of a musical composition, The thumbnail examples used in this section illustrate the functions of these markings, In a full-sized musical composition, several pages of music may actually occur between symbols-so it's a good idea to review their placement and meaning before you begin to play or sing,

Repeat Sign

Most styles of music call for their individual sections to be repeated at times. In fact, this kind of repetition is often important to the structure of a musical composition, Two dots before a double bar form a repeat sign,

If a repeat sign occurs at the end of the piece, it indicates that you should repeat the entire piece once from the beginning. Play "Hot Cross Buns" twice through in tempo.

If a repeat sign occurs in the middle of a piece, go back to the beginning and repeat the section before going on.

Da Capo

D.C. is an abbreviation of the Italian phrase Da Capo, meaning "from the head.' This marking means the same thing as a single repeat sign--repeat the piece from its beginning.

Inverted Repeat Sign

If a reverse repeat sign occurs earlier in the piece, you should only repeat from that point onward. Here the inverted repeat sign means that you should skip the first measure when you repeat the piece.

Alternate Endings

A bracket and numeral is used to mark alternate endings for a section. Here you should skip the first ending on the repeat and go on to the second ending.

D.$. al Coda

D.S. al Coda means to repeat from the dal segno sign. Once you reach the coda sign, skip to the next coda sign, and play the coda section. D.C. al Coda and D.S. al Coda are also written D. C. al $ and D. S. al $.

D.C. al Coda

D.C. al Coda tells you to repeat the piece until you reach the coda sign ($) then skip to the next coda sign, and play the coda, a short ending section (literally "tail").

D.S. al Fine

D.S. al Fine means to go back to the dal segno sign and repeat until the point marked Fine.

D.C. al Fine

Fine (pronounced "feenay') is the Italian word for "end." D.C. al Fine tells you to go back to the beginning of the piece and repeat until you come to the marking Fine.

Accents and Articulations

Different accents and articulations are used to create distinctive phrases and textures in a piece,


If a dot appears above or below a note, that note should be played or sung with a short and crisp action called staccato, Staccato notes with upward stems feature the dot beneath the notehead, Notes with downward stems feature the dot above the notehead, In order to create a short, sharp sound, a staccato note receives less than half its indicated value, For example, each of these quarter notes is approximately equivalent to a sixteenth note, as shown,

A triangle above or below a note also indicates that it should be treated as a staccato, though this marking generally calls for somewhat more stress,


Notes marked with any of these accent signs should be played or sung with a strong accent and held for their full note value,


A curved line connecting two or more notes calls for them to be played smoothly, The slur should not be confused with the tie, which calls for two notes of the same pitch to be played as one note value,

Sometimes a slur is used with staccato markings to indicate that the notes be played halfway between staccato and legato-that is, they are still detached, yet somewhat smooth,

Phrase Mark

A phrase mark is a curved line used by composers and arrangers to indicate the natural punctuation of a musical piece, Phrase marks are usually used to highlight longer passages than slurs, as shown in the first two phrases of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", Notice that a tie also appears in the last measures of this example,

When used in a song, phrase marks often correspond with the natural punctuation of its lyrics, This type of agreement of phrasing between melody and lyrics helps make a song memorable and structurally sound,


Ornaments are musical decorations that provide points of interest in a piece,

Grace Notes

The grace note is a small note that adjoins a full-sized note, It is usually depicted as a small eighth note with a slash through its flag and stem. The grace note you will encounter most often in written music is the unaccented grace note, This note should be played as quickly as possible just before the natural beat of the note that follows, Here is the grace note, both as it is notated and as it is actually played,

A grace note that features an accent sign is called an accented grace note or appoggiatura, This note should be played as quickly as possible on the natural beat of the note that follows, Thus, the value of the grace note is deducted from that of the full-sized note, as shown,

Grace notes may also occur in groups, These are usually unaccented grace notes and their time value is deducted from that of the previous beat, A group of two or three grace notes usually features two beams, like sixteenth notes, Groups of four or more grace notes feature three beams, like thirty-second notes, Multiple grace notes should be played quite quickly, according to the skill and taste of the performer.


A trill is an ornament that consists of the rapid alternation of a note with the note above it, A trill lasts for the full length of the indicated note, Here is a quarter note with a trill, and an illustration of how the trill is actually played,


A tremolo is indicated by two half notes joined together with a beam, This means that these two pitches should each be played twice in an alternating pattern of eighth notes,

When half notes are joined with a double beam, the two notes are played four times each in an alternating pattern of sixteenth notes, A triple beam indicates that you play eight alternating thirty-second notes-which, in effect, means to play the alternating pattern as quickly as possible, Tremolos may be applied to other note values,

In music for stringed instruments, the term tremolo is used to indicate the rapid repetition of the same note, This figure is indicated with two or three slash marks through the notes stem, as shown,

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Contents: Start with Staffs

Playing Notes on the Keyboard

Note Values and Rhythm

Time Signatures


More about Note Values and Rhythm


Minor Key Signatures and Scales