Mike Moxcey ©2005

Knowing the Notes on the Instrument

Learning which notes are named what on sheet music is the easy part.

The hard part is translating that to your instrument. To do that, you need to know two things:
  1. The names of your strings, and
  2. The Chromatic scale
You’ve got to learn the names of the note the string is tuned to in order to translate the names of the sheet music notes to your instrument. An autoharp doesn’t need to know this, but any fretted instrument does. If you don’t know the names of the strings, you’ve got nowhere to start. It’s just like a pianist must learn where middle C is.

Look around this site or in some other book about how to tune your instrument and you will find the names of the strings.

The Chromatic Scale

The Chromatic must be memorized if you want to understand music.

    … B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C C#/Db…

There isn’t too much else that needs to be memorized, but this is as basic as learning your numbers for mathematics or learning the letters of the alphabet. It isn’t too difficult.

There are two main things you need to remember:
  1. Between any two notes is a single note with an “accidental.”
    The accidental can be either a sharp (#) or a flat (b) that renames one of the adjoining notes either higher (sharper) or lower (flatter)
  2. There are no accidental notes between B and C and between E and F
Basically, the scale runs alphabetically from A to G and starts over again.

        A B C D E F G A

However, it most commonly is thought of as beginning at C

        C D E F G A B C

Now add notes in-between all of the notes except between E & F and between B & C

Here, the extra notes are marked with an asterisk:

        C * D * E F * G * A * B C

Accidental Notes

Now all we’ve got to do is name these notes. The note in-between C and D can either be called a C# (C-sharp) or a Db (D-flat). In one of the oddities of music theory, wind instrument players tend to think of the notes as flats so they write out a generic scale as:

          ... C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb B C ...

Stringed instrument players write out a chromatic scale with sharps. This is the scale you need to memorize for now:

          ... C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C ...

When writing a specific scale, you will usually use the indicators for the Key Signature but we don’t need to get into all that right now (if ever).

The Key Signature

At the beginning of each staff of music is a “key signature,” a set of sharps or flats in the various lines and spaces. If there are none, then the music is in the key of C. What the sharp or flat means is that every note that falls on that line or space (or an octave from it) is sharped or flatted. Because the G scale uses an F# note, the key of G will always be shown with a single sharp on the F line. The key of D uses a C# with the F# and will have two sharps, one on the F line and one on the C space. Many musicians can immediately tell what key something is in just by the number of sharps and flats.
Reading Music Index