Learning how to read violin notes is a difficult, albeit, important task. Below, violin teacher Naomi Cherie S. shows you how to read violin notes in an easy and fun way…
One of the best ways to build a strong foundation as a well-rounded musician is to learn how to read violin notes.
Playing by ear is a wonderful and valuable skill and should not be discredited in the least, as it can come in handy in many situations.
However, learning how to read violin sheet music can open you up to a whole other world of possibilities and will be necessary if you aspire to perform with an orchestra, quartet, or even some bands.
Think of it as the equivalent to learning how to read as a child and imagine how many possibilities that opened up!
Once you have learned how to read violin notes, with enough time and practice, you will be able to play pretty much any piece of music your set your mind to.
Below, I will walk you through how to read violin notes and test your knowledge with a quick quiz.
How to Read Violin Notes
Let’s start with the staff. The staff is the set of five horizontal lines on which notes are placed in standard violin sheet music.
There are seven notes of which all music is based; A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Once you get to G, you would start back over with A and the cycle would repeat again, getting higher in pitch as you go up the staff.
There are also multiple pitches that correspond with the same letter in music. For instance, there are several different A’s on the violin. They are just in varying forms of higher or lower pitches.
The easiest way to learn violin music notes is to divide the staff up into lines and spaces.
These are the notes that fall on the lines of the staff, meaning the notes directly on top of the lines with the lines intersecting them.
Starting from the bottom line, begin to memorize each note going up the top line. One popular mnemonic device you may have heard is “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” Another is “Elivs’ Guitar Broke Down Friday.”
These devices can be really handy to help memorize the notes! You can start with a beginner violin book, such as Essential Elements for Strings Volume I, which will give you some great exercises to help you memorize and learn these notes.
The Notes on the Spaces
Next, there are the violin music notes that fall in between the lines– on the spaces:
Another great mnemonic device applies here. If you look at the notes starting from the bottom note up to the top note, you will see that the letters spell F-A-C-E. And that of course rhymes with space. It’s quite catchy and memorable: “Face is in the space!”
Whenever you’re practicing or working from an exercise book make sure to keep these mnemonic devices in mind. If you forget the name of a note, first determine whether the note falls on a space or a line.
Then take your finger or a pencil and point to each note from the bottom on up, while saying aloud the corresponding mnemonic device to refresh your memory.
In the G scale chart above, you’ll notice that there are other notes that fall below the staff (lower in pitch) or above the staff (higher in pitch.)
In order to place these violin music notes, we use small lines or dashes called ledger lines. The notes can fall on the lines or in the spaces between them just like the five lines of the staff.
To read these notes you can use the ones on the staff that you already know as a reference point to figure them out.
Important Symbols on the Staff
The Treble Clef
Notice the fancy swirly symbol you see on your violin beginner book or sheet music. Clef symbols are reference points that name a specific note on the staff from which the names of all the other notes are based.
Lower pitched instruments use other clefs with different reference points, such as bass or alto clef. But in violin (as well as higher pitched instruments such as flute, trumpet and the right hand on piano) we use the treble clef.
The main thing a beginner should take from this is that if you’re looking at sheet music with a treble clef on it, it signifies that the music is most likely suitable to be played on the violin.
Next, you’ll see the key signature, which is very important to pay attention to because it will tell you whether or not you have any flat or sharp notes in the song.
A flat note (i.e. B flat) is a half-step lower in pitch than the base note (B) and is signified by this symbol: ♭
A sharp note (i.e. C sharp) is a half-step higher in pitch than the base note (C) and is signified by this symbol: #
If you see a flat symbol in the key signature, look at the line or space that is striking through the center of the symbol and determine which note corresponds to the line or the space.
Now throughout the duration of the piece (whether it’s a higher or lower version of that note) you will be playing the flat version of that note.
The same goes for when you see a sharp symbol in the key signature. Take a close look at the sharp symbol and notice that there is a little skewed square right in the middle of the symbol.
Whichever note corresponds to the line or space that the square forms around will be the note that will become sharp throughout the piece.
Sometimes there will be multiple sharps or a combination of sharps and flats. If you don’t see any sharps or flats in your key signature, you can just assume that all of the notes in the piece are going to be your normal or “natural” notes.
Any notes that are not mentioned in the key signature are assumed to be natural notes as well.
Next in line is the time signature. The time signature lets you know how to count a piece or how many beats are in each measure.
The staff is divided by vertical lines into segments called measures, which will contain a certain amount of beats depending on what your time signature says.
The top number in the time signature tells you how many beats are in each measure. Once the allotted amount of beats have been counted out it’s time to move on to the next measure and start the counting over again.
The bottom number describes the length of the beat. Since a beat is a loose term it could really mean anything but if you have a 4 on the bottom (most common) that would signify that you are basing your beat off of the length of a quarter note.
These are the numbers you’ll be seeing on the bottom of the time signature and which note lengths they correspond to:
- 2 = half note
- 4 = quarter note
- 8 = eighth note
- 16 = sixteenth note
These are the most common time signatures you will see:
The 4/4 time signature is so common that it is referred to as “common time” and often, you will see a C on the music where the time signature would normally be which means to play the piece in 4/4 time.
Test Yourself on How to Read Violin Notes
Now that you understand all of the symbols and signatures at the beginning of the song, you’re ready to start reading violin notes.
Remembering your mnemonic devices can help you read the notes on the staff, but will you be able to identify the notes that fall off of the staff and outside of the range of the mnemonic device?
As discussed earlier, there are many notes that will fall above the staff and a couple that fall below it.
You won’t need to know these right away, but once you get the notes on the staff memorized, you’ll definitely want to start tackling these.
Just remember that if you know the notes on the staff, you can count up or down using the alphabet to figure out any note you may come across.
Test yourself with the chart below.
Starting with the top line, which you know is an F count up alphabetically to figure out what note this is. Make sure you count each space and line.
…If you guessed D, you’re right!
Now that you’ve gotten the basics on reading violin sheet music, you’re ready to start putting it all together.
This is a lot of information that we just went over, so be sure to take some time and go over, reinforce, and really let it sink in.
Once you feel comfortable, you can start to learn about how these notes on the written sheet music correspond to the notes on your violin, which is discussed thoroughly in this article.
Eventually, you’ll want to add rhythms to your note sequences and learn about the different types of notes and their varying lengths–but that’s a whole other lesson.
For now, have fun getting familiar with everything discussed above and get excited about the potentials of this handy new skill!