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11 Music Note Symbols You Need to Know

For a large part of history, most musicians almost entirely relied on using their memory to remember songs. They would focus on learning songs from other musicians based on their memory and ability to recreate melodies and harmonies on their chosen instrument or voices. While this was a very common way to share songs, it often led to some songs being accidentally re-interpreted by musicians over time. 

Due to this, musicians started looking for a way to write down music in a way that would allow the original composition to remain intact. This is what musical notation is. The standard musical notation “language” is made up of a large number of symbols that all communicate different things in a song, depending on how they are used. 

What are Music Note Symbols?

Music note symbols are a universal way to communicate what a song is doing. The idea is that even though virtually all musicians will naturally play songs different from each other, the core of the song will remain the same due to musical notation. These different symbols all help musicians to play very similar music when performing compositions, and assist musicians when there are multiple instruments playing together. 

There are still many musicians in the world that will only use their ears to find out how to play a song. While this does require a lot of skill, it also limits these musicians in the way that they can truly understand music and compositions. Learning how to understand and interpret music note symbols can enable musicians to be as effective and versatile in the music industry as possible. 

What are the Most Important Music Note Symbols?

While there are a large number of different music note symbols, some are much more common than others. These are notation symbols that almost anyone will be familiar with, even if they do not know the meaning and purpose behind them. But to truly maximise one’s ability as a musician, it is important to learn how to correctly and quickly interpret at least these eleven music note symbols. 

Staff

The staff is a musical notes symbol that acts as the body and structure for almost all musical pieces. It is the foundation for how most songs are written down, and gives a defined location as to where all of the rest of the musical notes should be placed. Without the staff, musical notation would be almost incomprehensible, and largely disorganized and confusing. The staff aligns all musical notes onto the same grid, so that they can be easily and effectively interpreted by all musicians in whatever context they need. 

Bars

Bars separate the different measures on the staff. These are incredibly important to the organization of a composition, and can help people to much more easily see where they are in the song. Bars divide up the measures based on what the time signature of the song is. A song in 4/4 will have bars that are 4 beats long, while a song in 3/4 will have measures that are three beats long. 

Notes

Notes are incredibly important because they communicate both the pitch and the rhythm for a given note. These range in size from Whole Notes which are worth four beats, to a thirty-second note which is worth an eighth of a beat, a sixty-fourth note, a twenty-eighth note, to even smaller and faster notes such as a quarter note. 

These different notes work together to compose melodies and harmonies, and are some of the most important musical notation symbols for musicians at large. Notes are what songs are fundamentally composed of, and are the building blocks for virtually every composition. 

Rests

Rests are similar to notes in the fact that they dictate the rhythm in a big way. However, instead of communicating pitch as well, they communicate silence. While sound is a huge part of music as a whole, silence when an instrument is not playing is just as important, if not more important in some circumstances. These also range in size from Whole Rests, all the way down to tiny fractions of a whole rest. 

Dots

Dots are very important to the rhythmic duration of notes. They change the length of notes by adding half of the length of the note to the already existing note. For example, a Half Note is worth two beats, but a Dotted Half note will be worth three beats. An Eighth note is worth half of a beat, but a Dotted Eighth Note is worth three-quarters of a beat. This can be a fairly confusing concept to understand initially, but with a little bit of practice, dotted notes can become second nature to any musician. 

Sharps, Flats, and Naturals

Sharps are music notation symbols that communicate that the note that they next to needs to be raised a single semitone. If there is sharp next to a C Natural, then it will be raised to the note C Sharp. 

A flat sign does a similar thing to sharps, except instead of raising a note, it will lower it one semitone. If a flat is placed next to a C Natural, it will become a C Flat, which is the enharmonic equivalent of the note B. 

A natural takes a note that has been raised or lowered by a sharp or flat and makes it a natural version of that note. For example, when a note is notated as F in the key of G, it will actually be an F Sharp note. But when there is a natural used by it, the note will be lowered to the note F natural. 

Key Signatures

Key Signatures help to make sure that a song is in the correct key, and is communicated by which notes in the key have sharps or flats in them. For example, the key of D Major has the notes F Sharp and C Sharp in it, so the key signature will dictate that key signature by placing those sharps on those notes. The key of F Major has the note B Flat in it, so the key signature for that key will dictate that flat. 

Sustain Pedal Engage and Release

The sustain pedal is an incredibly important piece of musical notation to understand for any player of a keyboard based instrument. When the sustain pedal is engaged, it allows the notes to ring out either much longer or indefinitely. When the sustain pedal is released, it cuts off the notes that are sustaining so that new notes can cut through much more easily. 

Other Notable Symbols and Indications for Playing Music

Whether it’s guitar, violin, piano, saxophone, cello, or another instrument with sheet music, here’s a quick list of other symbols and indications, which can be helpful to know and learn:

-Bass clef (or f clef) and treble clef

-Pedal mark

-Fermata

-Bracket

-Forte

-Crescendo 

-Brace

-Common time

-Marcato 

-Repeat signs

-Bow

-Cut time

-Slur

-Ottava bassa

-Semibreve

-Alta

-Da capo

-Dal segno 

-Tremolo

-Accent

-Accidentals

As you can see, there is a lot to know and master. A full musical score contains ledger lines, different beams and notes with a stem, and so much more. 

How Unison Can Help

Often, the best way to learn how to use proper music notation is to see it in action. That’s one of the reasons why Unison has created a multitude of packages for musicians who want to expand their music quality into newfound heights. 

The MIDI Chord pack can enable musicians to very quickly and easily put together incredible chord progressions on a simple drag and drop basis. Many DAWs have a music notation mode that makes it much easier to see how the individual notes are working with traditional music notes. 

Unison also has other MIDI packs ranging from Jazz MIDI chords to House MIDI Melodies. These can all help to take any song from good to excellent just with the click of a button. 

Any musician who wants to take their music to the next level should check out Unison as soon as possible. The next hit is right around the corner, and Unison makes it easier than ever to get there! 

 

Sources: 

Music 101: What Is Musical Notation? Learn About The Different Types of Musical Notes and Time Signatures – 2021 | MasterClass

How Was Musical Notation Invented? A Brief History | WQXR

OnMusic Dictionary – Music symbols | OnMusic

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