How to Read Music

Can You Read Music?

Can anyone learn to read music? I can see how reading music can look intimidating, but I believe anyone can do it. In fact, I’ve never (and I really do mean never) had a student fail at learning to read music. I would even venture to say that reading the English language is more of a challenge than reading music. Even though I won’t go over everything you need to know today, I will start with identifying the names of notes. This will help remove some of the mystery from reading music.

Lines and Spaces

When beginning to read music, it’s important to know about the staff. This is the staff:

How to read music

The staff is made of 5 lines (colored in red):

Reading music on saxophone

And 4 spaces:

How to read music on saxophone

The Treble Clef

As soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophone players, we read music in the treble clef. This is the treble clef:

The soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones play in the treble clef

If we changes clefs, the note names will change. But since we play in treble clef only, we won’t worry about that right now. Let’s name some notes!

The Musical Alphabet

In the English alphabet, we use letters A-Z. The musical alphabet is much shorter: A-G. When we name notes, we only use these 7 names/letters.

Note Names

Now, we can plug the notes into the lines and spaces. For the notes sitting in the spaces, we simply spell FACE to identify the note names. Spell going up, starting in the lowest space:

Note names in the spaces

When labeling the lines, we can use fun phrases. Here’s one I learned as a kid:

  • Every
  • Good
  • Boy
  • Deserves
  • Fudge

Spell going up, starting on the lowest line:

Note names on the lines

Adding Notes

When we add notes, they’re named by the lines and spaces they are placed on:

Note names in the treble clef

When reading notes on the saxophone, we read from left to right. When one note ends, the other begins. Here’s an 8 second video of how this looks and sounds:

That’s It!

Now you can see how notes are given their names and how they are organized on the lines and spaces. If you have any questions about reading music, feel free to ask in the comment section. Want to learn more? Our free lessons start from the beginning and the Membership Series will take you to an intermediate level of reading music. Try out the Free Lessons here!

The Mystery

Hopefully that took out some of the mystery in regards to reading music. If you felt this post was helpful, please feel free to share it with other through our social media buttons on this page. Thanks for helping to get the word out!

Comments 11

  1. I read music a tiny amount when i was a kid, 30 years on i want to learn the sax and had no recolection at all. This has made it so much easier to get my head around. Thanks

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  2. I have recently bought a tenor saxophone .I played about 25 years ago 2nd tenor in a student jazz band so could read a little bit of music . This has really helped me . Thank you

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      Hi Wayne,

      Thanks for writing and congrats on getting back to the saxophone! If you have any questions about reading music, let me know. The free lessons also cover a little bit of reading. Let me know how things go.

  3. Jeff
    Yes I started with no ability to read music.
    The first time I read this it did not click in for me.
    The second time it does because I have been practising for a month.

  4. Hi I’ve just started to learn how to play the saxophone and read music. I’ve noticed there are two each of e and f. On a piano i can imagine where they would be but on a saxophone there is only one. Is the difference one’s with the octave key or a flat/ sharp?

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      Thanks for your question! From your description, it sounds like you are describing the octave. In regards to the F, the lower F will be on the bottom space of the staff. When you jump up to the octave F (by using the same fingering but adding the octave key), then you’ll be playing the F that sits on the top line of the staff.They are the same note, just an octave apart. I hope I’ve answered your question. If you need additional information, please let me know.

  5. Hi,

    I am a complete beginner at playing an Alto Sax. I have no experience with reading notes or playing. I want to start off with being able to read music aswell as playing and not just practising songs. Do you have any sheets where I can understand the symbols more? Many thanks

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      Hi Amy. Thank you for your response and welcome to the saxophone world. The notes can be a concern at the beginning, but after time you’ll get to a point where you won’t even think about the notes; reading notes will become second nature. Our lessons are designed to take you through the whole process, so you’ll feel comfortable reading every note on the saxophone. In regards to a fingering chart, a google search will provide multiple options. If you have any questions, please let me know!

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