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How To Read Music Notes (Part 3) – learn to play piano / keyboard

Music Terms / Definitions for this page:

Rest: A rest is a symbol that corresponds to a note value. When reading a rest in sheet music no note is played for the duration of the rest.

Beat: A beat is the name for a unit of music. Musicians learn to count beats, and play notes for the specified number of beats. Some use a metronome, this device counts out beats, and will tick according to which timing you have set. Counting beats starts when the first note is played.


Measure: Sheet music is divided into Measures. Each individual Measure lasts for the same time duration, and can consist of a combination of notes and rests. A measure ends where a vertical bar line goes through the staff (horizontal lines) on sheet music.

Note: A note is represented by a sign which tells the musician the duration and pitch of a sound.

Pitch: The specific frequency of a sound. Notes to the right of the keyboard have a higher pitch than the notes to the left.

Notes as they appear on sheet music:The below table displays the symbols that represent rests, their names, and beats in 4/4 time.

Notes as they appear on sheet music

The above example consists of 3 measures of music. Each measure has 4 beats as the time signature is 4/4. You can have one whole note, two half notes or 4 quarter notes per measure or a combination of notes that will give you 4 beats.

Now see if you can play the notes while counting. Note that the 4 notes in the third measure should take the same length to play as the whole note in the first measure.

Rests: The below table displays the symbols that represent rests, their names, and beats in 4/4 time.

The below table displays the symbols that represent rests, their names, and beats in 4/4 time

Rests use the same beats per measure as their corresponding notes. Rests are always located in the above positions, so you won’t miss them. A half rest always sits on the middle line, while a whole rest always hangs from the fourth line up.

Tip:  When you come to a rest on a sheet of music you should take your hand completely off the keyboard for the appropriate length of time.

- How To Read Music Notes » – Part 1 & 2.
- Learn to Play Piano »

How to quickly print these notes and guidelines:
Use your mouse to highlight all of  text that you want to print out.  Then copy/paste that text into a text-only editor on your computer. For example, Notepad, a common text editor included with all versions of Microsoft Windows, and found in Start, All Programs, Accessories. Then click on “File” in the top left corner of the Notepad document, and click on “Print”.

Below is a list of some great books and educational material regarding this subject. We have added links to an online US bookstore, should you need further information on these products. You can also copy / paste the name of the author or book into the search box opposite.