Instructor: Julian Acosta
Julian understands the aspects of music and the importance of the steps necessary to connect with music. He studied music at the University of Texas and has taught ukulele, piano, guitar and voice since 2009.

Reading Guitar Sheet Music

As a fundamental part of music theory, learning how to read music helps you play some of your favorite tunes and even write your own music. Once you get through this lesson, you'll understand the most common and important elements found when reading sheet music.

Some guitar players find it difficult to read guitar music. However, it's a great skill to have even if just the basics. Try not to get too frustrated with all of the terminology, especially if you're interested in learning how to read guitar tabs.

Guitar Sheet Music Terminology


The staff is what you call the lines and spaces where you see the notes written on sheet music.

Guitar Sheet Staff

Ledger Lines:

When the notes don't fit on the staff because they fall outside of the E note (4th string, 2nd fret) and F note (1st string, 1st fret) on your guitar, then ledger lines appear above or below the staff to indicate where the lines and spaces would fall.

Guitar Sheet Leger Lines

Treble Clef:

The treble clef symbols helps you to know where the notes fall on the lines and spaces. In guitar sheet music, the treble clef always circles the line that represents the G note.

Guitar Sheet Treble Clef


To remember which notes coincide with each space, simply use the acronym FACE.

Guitar Sheet Spaces

The Lines:

To remember which guitar notes each line represents, simply use the acronym Every Good Boy Does Fine.

Guitar Sheet Lines

Key Signatures:

Key signatures is where you look to find out what notes will be played sharp or flat, which represent the key or group of chords to be played.

Guitar Sheet key signatures


When a note isn't part of a naturally occurring key, it will be marked with the sharp, natural, or flat symbol.

Guitar Sheet accidentals

Time Signatures:

You will find two numbers that represent the time signature right next to the treble clef. The top number tells the number of beats per bar or measure to be played whereas the bottom number indicates which notes get that beat. For example, 4/4 means that you will count out 4 (top number) quarter notes (bottom number) for every measure.

Guitar Sheet Time signatures


The staff on the sheet music is divided up into measures by horizontal lines called bars.

Guitar Sheet Bars


Notes can take on different numbers of beats but the most commonly used notes include the whole note (4 beats), half note (2 beats) and quarter note (1 beat). These can be fractioned down to have shorter beats such as the eighth note (1/2 beat), sixteenth note (1/4 beat) and thirty-second note (1/8 beat).

Guitar Sheet Notes


While notes indicate where you actually play, rests indicate where you don't play a note. Like notes, rests are divided into beats such as the whole note rest (4 beats), half note rest (2 beats), quarter note rest (1 beat) and others.

Guitar Sheet Rests


When a dot appears next to a note, this indicates that you must add half the value of the note to the note being played. For example, a dotted half note means you count it as 3 beats instead of only 2 beats.

Guitar Sheet Dots


The curved line called a tie is simply a way to indicate when two or more of the same notes should be played together as if they were a single note.

Guitar Sheet Ties


Not to be confused with tied notes, slurs are also curved lines but they indicate when different notes are to be played legato, which means in continuous succession without a break in between them. Hammer-ons and pull-offs are two types of guitar slurs.

Guitar Sheet slurs

Repeat Signs:

The repeat sign, shown as a bar with double dots, indicates that you must go back and begin playing again where you first saw a set of two dots.

Guitar Sheet Repeat Signs

String and Finger Indications:

When you see a number placed above or beside a note, this indicates which string or finger you should use.

Guitar Sheet Indications

How To Read Guitar Tabs

After you have a good grasp of how to read guitar sheet music, you're ready to learn how to play guitar chords and rhythms as well as learn to read chord charts and guitar tabs.

Guitar tablature, also known as “tabs,” are vital for guitar players. You want to learn a song quickly but don’t have access to the full sheet music? There’s probably a tab floating on the internet, waiting for you to find it.

Here's a preview of what's to come:

how to read guitar tabs

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