Guitar For Dummies
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The table explains what the various symbols dealing with pitch mean in music notation. Refer to the figure and this table for the meanings of the symbols. The table refers to the symbols numbered from 1 to 6 in the figure.

Music for
Music for "Shine On Harvest Moon."
Pitch Symbols and Their Meanings
Number in Figure What It's Called What It Means
1 Staff Composers write music on a five-line system called a staff. In talking about the individual lines of the staff, refer to the bottom line as the first line. Between the five lines are four spaces. Refer to the bottom space as the first space. You can place note heads on lines or in spaces. As the note heads get higher on the staff, they get correspondingly higher in pitch. The distance from one line to the next higher space (or from one space to the next higher line) is one letter of the alphabet (for example, A to B).
2 Clef The staff alone doesn't tell you the pitches (letter names) of the various lines and spaces. But a symbol called a clef, at the left edge of each staff, identifies a particular note on the staff. From that note, you can determine all the other notes by moving alphabetically up and down the staff (line to space to line, and so on). The clef you use in guitar music is called the treble clef (or G clef — see G note following).
3 G note The clef you use in guitar music is the treble clef (sometimes called the G clef), which vaguely resembles an old-fashioned letter G. It curls around the second line of the staff and indicates that this line is G, and any note on that line is a G note. Some people memorize the letter names of all the lines (E, G, B, D, F, bottom to top) by the mnemonic "Every Good Boy Does Fine." For the spaces (F, A, C, E, bottom to top), they think of the word face.
4 Ledger lines If you want to write notes higher or lower than the staff, you can "extend" the staff, above or below, by adding very short additional staff lines called ledger lines. The notes (letter names) move up and down alphabetically on the ledger lines just as they do on the normal staff lines.
5 Accidentals (sharps, flats, and naturals) The seven notes that correspond to the first seven letters of the alphabet (sometimes called natural notes) aren't the only notes in our musical system. Five other notes occur in between some of the natural notes. Picture a piano keyboard. The white keys correspond to the seven natural notes, and the black keys are the five extra notes. Because these "black-key" notes don't have names of their own, musicians refer to them by their "white-key" names, along with special suffixes or symbols. To refer to the black key to the right of a white key (a half step higher), use the term sharp. So the black key to the right of C, for example, is C-sharp. On the guitar, you play a C-sharp one fret higher than you play a C. Conversely, to indicate the black key to the left of a white key (a half step lower), you use the term flat. So the black key to the left of B, for example, is B-flat. On the guitar, you play a B-flat one fret lower than B. If you sharp or flat a note, you can undo it (that is, restore it to its natural, "white-key" state) by canceling the sharp or flat with a symbol known as a natural sign. The last note of the first staff of the figure, A-natural, shows this kind of cancellation.
6 Key signature Sometimes you play a particular pitch (or pitches) as a sharp or flat (see the preceding explanation of accidentals) consistently throughout a song. Rather than indicate a flat every time a B occurs, for example, you may see a single flat on the B line just after the clef. That indicates that you play every B in the song as B-flat. Sharps or flats appearing that way are known as a key signature. A key signature tells you which notes to sharp or flat throughout a song. If you need to restore one of the affected notes to its natural state, a natural sign in front of the note indicates that you play the natural note (as in the seventh note of the figure, where the natural sign restores B-flat to B-natural).

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Mark Phillips is a former director of music at Cherry Lane Music, where he edited or arranged the songbooks of such artists as John Denver, Van Halen, Guns N??? Roses, and Metallica.

Jon Chappell is a multistyle guitarist, arranger, and former editor-in-chief of Guitar magazine.

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