How to read music – advanced

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If you’ve landed on this blog I am guessing you understand the basics of reading music (if not check out our how to read music – the basics blog!), it is no easy task so congratulations! It takes a lot of time and perseverance to be able to sight-read sheet music so don’t give up!

In how to read music – the basics we covered note values, musical symbols and the time signature,  the actual reading of the music and finally putting the music to your piano.

To continue on from this we are going to look into accidentals, repeat signs and volta brackets, rest values, tempo, dynamics and note relationships!

Accidentals (Sharps, flats and naturals)

First things first you will come across accidentals in most sheet music so they are important to know! An accidental is a note whose pitch is not a member of the scale and the sign raises or lowers the note.

The most common accidentals are the sharps (the ‘hashtags’) which raise the pitch:partitions-notes-09

and the flats (the ‘bs’) which lower the pitch:partitions-notes-10

Like in the images generally you will see the sharps and the flats located at the beginning of the sheet music in between the treble/bass clef and the time signature. For example See You Again – Wiz Khalifa.

This is because throughout the whole sheet music the sharps or flats will stay the same so it is easier to put them once at the beginning rather then noting them the whole time throughout the music.

When you have just a few sharps or flats that appear in the song they will be marked in the actual sheet music next to the note like this:

partitions-notes-11 partitions-notes-12

The flat or sharp will then be valid for that bar.

For an example sheet music check out Summertime Sadness – Lana Del Ray.

The third and final accidental is the “natural” this symbol neutralizes the sharp or flat that is either indicated at the beginning of the sheet music or within the sheet music (as I have just explained). When the sharp or flat is within the sheet music they will continue within that bar unless you see a natural, so if you see c flat then a c by itself you would play it as a c flat again.

When you see the natural (as per the image below) you play the note as per normal.partitions-notes-13

Repeat signs and volta brackets

The repeat sign does as the name suggests and is a bar or passage that is to be played more than once. If there is no repeat sign on the left, the right repeat sign sends the performer back to the start of the piece or the nearest double bar. The colon part of the repeat sign will be on the inner side of the passage to be repeated, as the image below:


Volta is Italian for time and Volta brackets (or time bars) are horizontal brackets labeled either with numbers or letters and are used when the repeated passage has more than one ending:


So with the above image you would play G F E D C D E F G F E D G F E D – Check out our sheet music for Für Elise -Beethoven to see the Volta brackets in action!

Rest Values

Just as in life we need to rest, music needs to too! As shown in the how to read music – the basics blog each note has a value and this is the same for rests with each note having it’s equivalent rest value sign – hence the name for the rests is the same as the note 🙂

Please note that there are some rests and notes which are worth more or less then the ones I have mentioned but they are very rare hence I have not mentioned them.

I am going to write two names for each note – the first one is the American term and the second is the British term. I have also included images to show the worth of each rest within sheet music.

A whole rest /semibreve rest is worth a whole measure (4 beats) and is a rectangle that hangs off the staff (like a stalactite!)

A half rest / minim rest is worth half a measure (2 beats) and is a rectangle on the staff (like a stalagmite!)

A quarter rest / crotchet rest is worth one quarter of a measure (1 beat)

The image below shows the above 3 rests represented within the bars with how many measures they are worth. The whole rest is to the left followed by the half rest followed by the quarter rest.


An eighth rest / quaver rest is worth one eighth of a measure (1/2 beat) – please see left of image below

A sixteenth rest / semi-quaver rest is worth one sixteenth of a measure (1/4 beat) and looks much like the eighth rest but with an added tail (the more tails you add the smaller the worth!) – please see right of image below


The rests are added into a bar to maintain the beat signified in the time signature but without having to have any music. For an example check out our sheet music for Demons – Imagine Dragons.


The tempo is the speed or pace of a given piece and is indicated at the start of the sheet music by a note = XX BPM.

This precisely defines the tempo of the music by assigning absolute durations to all note values within the score.

For example the tempo for All of Me – John legend is 63 which means that 63 quarter notes/ crotchets fit into one minute. As you can see from our tempo scale below is pretty slow.partitions-notes-27


Dynamics are indicators of the intensity or volume of a piece – which in other words is how soft or hard you play the notes!

A piano was originally called a piano-forte which is Italian for quiet loud! Piano (quiet) is represented by a p and forte (loud) is represented by an f!


Extremely soft.You will hardly ever come across softer dynamics than this, which are specified with additional ps.


Very soft.


Soft. This dynamic is quite common.


Mezzo piano
Moderately soft; louder than piano.


Mezzo forte
Moderately loud. If there is no indicated dynamic, mezzo-forte is assumed to be the prevailing dynamic level.





Very loud.


Extremely loud. You won’t come across this or louder very often – louder pieces are indicated with an extra f.


A fierce accent on just a single sound or chord. It applies to the sequence of sounds or chords under or over which it is placed.


A gradual increase in volume which can be increased depending on how stretched out it is.

partitions-notes-25 Diminuendo
Also decrescendo
A gradual decrease in volume. Can also be increased like the Crescendo.

Check out all the different dynamics in Bella’s Lullaby.

Note relationships (dotted and staccato notes, ties and slurs)

Certain symbols placed around notes can change how they are played within the piece.

A dotted note is where there is a dot to the right of note-head and then lengthens the duration of the note by one-half! Additional dots can be added to the right of the original dot to lengthen the previous dot instead of the original note, thus a note with one dot is one and one half its original value, a note with two dots is one and three quarters, and so on. Rests can be dotted in the same manner.

Don’t confuse dotted notes with staccato where there is a dot located beneath or on top of the note-head (see below), these indicate that the note should be played shorter than notated without changing the tempo of the piece. They are to played a bit like as if your piano is on fire so your fingers jump off the notes!


Ties indicate that two (or more) notes joined together are to be played at one note. To be a tie both notes need to be identical (see image below):


If the notes are not the same then it is called a slur. Slurs indicate that you must play two or more notes in one physical stroke (see image below):


I hope you found this blog useful! You can search for free sheet music for over 30 different instruments on Jellynote.

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