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Note Values

Here are the most common note values you will encounter.



A semibreve (whole note) lasts for four counts.



A minim (half note) lasts for two counts.

  • Two minims occupy the same duration as a semibreve




A crotchet (quarter note) lasts for one count.

  • Two crotchets occupy the same duration as a semibreve

  • Four crotchets occupy the same duration as a semibreve




A quaver (eighth note) lasts for half a count.

  • Two quavers occupy the same duration as a crotchet

  • Four quavers occupy the same duration as a minim

  • Eight quavers occupy the same duration as a semibreve




A semiquaver (sixteenth note) lasts for a quarter of a count.

  • Two semiquavers occupy the same duration as a quaver

  • Four semiquavers occupy the same duration as a crotchet

  • Eight semiquavers occupy the same duration as a minim

  • Sixteen semiquavers occupy the same duration as a semibreve


Notes smaller than one count, or beat, have tails, e.g. the quaver has a single tail and the semiquaver has two.

We also have demisemiquavers, hemidemisemiquavers, semihemidemisemiquavers and demisemihemidemisemiquavers – with three, four, five and six tails respectively – but we will ignore them for now.

The chart below will help you to remember note durations.

The Stave

If you have seen sheet music before, you will know musical notes are written on a series of lines and spaces. These lines and spaces are called a stave (staff)*. The modern stave has five lines and four spaces. Each represents a note on the white keys of a piano keyboard.




* Throughout this course I will include the US names alongside the European terminology where necessary, as different examining boards follow different protocol.



A clef is a symbol that indicates the pitch and name of notes written on the stave. Clef is French for key. We use three main clefs in contemporary (modern) music, but there are several more.


The three we most often use are:


Treble Clef


Bass Clef
bass clef


Alto Clef
alto clef


We also have a neutral clef for percussion; it is not a clef, per se, but a standard convention indicating the musical notes that follow it are to be played by an instrument of no fixed pitch.


neutral clef


Guitarists may be familiar with TAB. Tab, or tablature, appears similar to a regular stave but has an extra line. Instead of reflecting note names, the lines on a TAB stave represent guitar strings. The note heads are replaced by numbers, representing the fret to be pressed (more on TAB in a later lesson).


guitar tab


The Grand Stave (Grand Staff)

The Grand Stave is used for keyboard instruments, with a stave for the left hand below and a separate one above for the right hand. Theoretically, the Grand Stave is a single, eleven-lined stave, but that would be far too difficult to read. Instead, we eliminate the middle line and are left with two five-line staves.


grand stave


The higher stave, or treble stave, is for notes higher in pitch than those on the lower stave. We play these with the right hand. Notes here are prefaced with a treble clef, also known as the G clef. The line which the body of the treble clef curls around is a G.


The lower stave, or bass stave, is for notes lower in pitch than those on the higher stave. We play these with the left hand. Notes on the left hand stave are prefaced with a bass clef, also known as the F clef. The line between the two dots of the clef is an F.



The Musical Alphabet

Notes are labelled like the modern English alphabet, but the musical alphabet is very simple as it only has seven letters. It runs from A to G and then starts over, as shown in the keyboard and stave diagrams below.


Eventually, we run out of space to place high and low notes. We can fix this by adding leger (ledger) lines to notes pitched higher and lower than the stave.


leger lines

Music Theory – Why Bother?

Introduction to Music Theory

Music has always been around, long before music theory. So why bother learning it?

music theoryMusic theory is the rules and conventions of musical language, much like those of any spoken language, like Spanish or German. Just as many people in the world are able to communicate without reading or writing, numerous self-taught musicians learn to play instruments without knowing music theory. However, becoming fluent in language and comprehension improves your ability to communicate thoughts and feelings.

Knowing music theory is similar. It will help you develop and master your musical skills, try new styles and instruments, and become confident in your abilities. As you work through this course, you might find that you actually know more music theory than you realised; you just didn’t have the words to describe what you know and feel.

It would be lovely to be able to pick up any instrument and just play without any prior learning, but most people can’t do that. We need some basic information first about how to understand the language of music (plus how to translate this knowledge to playing our chosen instrument). When we put these elements together, we accumulate a wide range of knowledge enabling us to become better players, readers, and singers.

Analysing music and its forms enabled composers to transcribe what they created long before we had the facilities to record audio. By writing notes on sheets, with additional directions, they knew musicians could reproduce the compositions as they were meant to be played.

If we want to play Classical music it is essential we can read notated music. While not essential for studio session musicians, the ability to sightread sheet music gives us a huge advantage in certain genres over musicians who play by ear. The musically fluent player is able to quickly scan a piece of sheet music and hear it in his head. The best session musicians who play by ear still understand key centres and how to move between tonalities, which is especially important when improvising over a chord sequence, e.g. playing a metal guitar solo or blues saxophone interlude.

Songwriters and composers need to know music theory. Music producers, too, can greatly benefit a fundamental understanding of musical language when working with artists in the studio. Knowing how music is put together will enable you to become a better producer.

All popular music follows certain patterns and forms, and the songwriter who understands how to analyse what makes a song a hit can emulate and develop his own strong material. Catchy vocal melodies are based on scales and arpeggios, and other repetitive riffs that belong in the key of the song. If a songwriter understands how chords are built and which chords work with one another, it makes the job of creating a new song much easier and more enjoyable, especially when writing to a brief and to a deadline.

Becoming a great musician takes discipline and hard work, but it is worth it and it is also a lot of fun. As with all pursuits, our results as musicians are rooted in our efforts. When we understand the basic elements of music theory, such as counting beats, rhythm and a steady pace, harmony, key signatures, time signatures, time values of written note and rest types, we become better musicians.

In this course, we will start with the basics and build upon this foundation to take your understanding of music to a higher level. Even if you have some musical experience but never learned to read music, developing this additional knowledge will add extra skills to your toolbox.

So, let’s begin! If you would like to join my music theory course, please send me a message on the Contact page for more information.

Emma L.M. Sweeney

Who’s Your Celebrity Vocal Twin?

Who’s your celebrity vocal twin? Check out this chart to see how your range matches up 😀


“Compare the vocal ranges of today’s top artists with the greatest of all time.
This chart shows the highest and lowest notes each artist hit in the recording studio. Hover over the bars to see the songs on which they reached those notes.”

View Chart

The Neuroscience of Music, Mindset, and Motivation

‘Music is one of the most powerful neurobiological tools we have to change our mood, mindset, and behavior. What is the impact of listening to music that promotes violence, hate or agression on our minds? How does this music shape the minds and explanatory style of our children?

Music and mood are inherently linked. Scientists continue to uncover how these influences occur at a neural level. Studies prove that the music we listen to engages a wide range of neurobiological systems that affect our psychology. A recent study by researcher Jacob Jolij and student Maaike Meurs of the Psychology Department of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands shows that music has a dramatic effect on explanatory style and perception.’

(Read rest of article)

Song Analysis To Singing

In this new video series, we explore the potential of improving performance by analyzing the lyrics to a song before singing it again. So often, we sing on autopilot, mimicking what we hear on the radio, TV, internet…but how often do we really listen to the message the songwriter is sending us. Can you hear the difference before and afterwards?


Choir singing boosts immune system activity in cancer patients and carers, study shows

Singing in a choir for just 1 hour causes physiological changes in people affected by cancer


Singing in a choir for just one hour boosts levels of immune proteins in people affected by cancer, reduces stress and improves mood, which in turn could have a positive impact on overall health, a new study by Tenovus Cancer Care and the Royal College of Music published today in ecancermedicalscience has found.


The research raises the possibility that singing in choir rehearsals could help to put people in the best possible position to receive treatment, maintain remission and support cancer patients.


The study tested 193 members of five different choirs. Results showed that singing for an hour was associated with significant reductions in stress hormones, such as cortisol, and increases in quantities of cytokines — proteins of the immune system — which can boost the body’s ability to fight serious illness.


Dr Ian Lewis, Director of Research and Policy at Tenovus Cancer Care and co-author of the research, said: “These are really exciting findings. We have been building a body of evidence over the past six years to show that singing in a choir can have a range of social, emotional and psychological benefits, and now we can see it has biological effects too.


“We’ve long heard anecdotal evidence that singing in a choir makes people feel good, but this is the first time it’s been demonstrated that the immune system can be affected by singing. It’s really exciting and could enhance the way we support people with cancer in the future.”


The study also found that those with the lowest levels of mental wellbeing and highest levels of depression experienced greatest mood improvement, associated with lower levels of inflammation in the body. There is a link between high levels of inflammation and serious illness.


Choir members gave samples of their saliva before an hour of singing, and then again just after. The samples were analysed to see what changes occurred in a number of hormones, immune proteins, neuropeptides and receptors.


Dr Daisy Fancourt, Research Associate at the Centre for Performance Science, a partnership between the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London and co-author of the research, said: “Many people affected by cancer can experience psychological difficulties such as stress, anxiety and depression. Research has demonstrated that these can suppress immune activity, at a time when patients need as much support as they can get from their immune system. This research is exciting as it suggests that an activity as simple as singing could reduce some of this stress-induced suppression, helping to improve wellbeing and quality of life amongst patients and put them in the best position to receive treatment.”


Diane Raybould, 64, took part in the study and has been singing with the Bridgend Sing with Us choir since 2010. Diane was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was aged 50. Her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time and sadly, passed away from the disease at just 28. Diane said: “Singing in the choir is about more than just enjoyment, it genuinely makes you feel better. The choir leaders play a huge part of course, but so does the support of the other choir members, the inspirational programme and uplifting songs. The choir is a family, simple as that. Having cancer and losing someone to cancer can be very isolating. With the choir, you can share experiences openly and that is hugely important.”


Rosie Dow, Head of Sing with Us at Tenovus Cancer Care and co-author of the research, added: “This research is so exciting, as it echoes everything all our choir members tell us about how singing has helped them. I’ve seen peoples’ lives transformed through singing in our choirs so knowing that singing also makes a biological difference will hopefully help us to reach more people with the message that singing is great for you — mind, body and soul.”


Following on from this research, Tenovus Cancer Care is launching a two year study looking in more depth at the longitudinal effect of choir singing over several months. It will look at mental health, wellbeing, social support and ability to cope with cancer, alongside measuring stress hormones and immune function amongst patients, carers, staff and people who have lost somebody to cancer.

Story Source:

Materials provided by ecancermedicalscienceNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Daisy Fancourt, Aaron Williamon, Livia A Carvalho, Andrew Steptoe, Rosie Dow, Ian Lewis. Singing modulates mood, stress, cortisol, cytokine and neuropeptide activity in cancer patients and carersecancermedicalscience, 2016; 10 DOI: 10.3332/ecancer.2016.631