Skip to Main Content Close
Call: 800-667-0097
  • Customer Service
    • Contact Us
    • Find a Rep

Learning about music gives children the opportunity to express themselves creatively, and it also has several educational benefits. As children learn the basics of music theory and develop their ability to read and create music, they hone their discipline and memory as well as their language and motor skills. Music can also bridge cultural divides, giving children a better understanding of how other people live and appreciation of the diversity of our world. That's why it's so important that all children have the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of making music alongside other academic subjects as part of a well-rounded education.

The Basics

Staff and Clefs

The staff is the set of lines and spaces upon which music is written. A staff has five lines with four spaces in between, though extra lines, called ledger lines, may be added above or below the staff for higher or lower notes as needed. Each line or space is designated for a specific note. A staff may be written using either treble clef or bass clef, depending on the pitch range of the instrument the music is for. The names of the notes on the staff will differ based on the clef. Most students will learn to read music using the treble clef, as it's the most common clef.

Note Duration

The duration of a note, or how many beats it is played or sung for, is shown by the type of note it is. The basic types of notes are whole, half, quarter, eighth, and sixteenth, and all of these are written differently.

Measures and Time Signature

A musical staff is divided into measures using vertical lines. How many beats are in each measure is determined by the time signature, which looks like a fraction placed next to the clef. The top number is the number of beats per measure, and the bottom number shows which note equals one beat (most commonly "4" for a quarter note).

Rest Duration

Rests, times when the instrument is silent, are also noted on the staff using different symbols, which show how long the rest should last.

Dots and Ties

If a note is followed by a dot, that indicates that the note should be held for 1.5 times the number of beats. Notes can also be tied together using a tie, which indicates that the lengths of these notes should be combined.

Steps and Accidentals

The distance between two whole tones is called a step. Half of this distance is a half-step. A note that's shifted up or down a half-step from its position on the staff will be followed by an accidental sign, either a sharp (half-step up) or a flat (half-step down).

Rhythm and Meter

Simple and Compound Meter

The most common meter in music is simple meter, which divides beats into two parts. Pieces written in 2/4, 3/4, or 4/4 time are written in simple meter. Music is also written in compound meter, which divides beats into thirds, as in measures in 6/8 time.

Odd Meter

An odd meter combines simple and compound meters, as in time signatures like 5/4 or 7/8.

Scales and Key Signatures

Major Scale

A major scale is a group of eight notes that make up an octave. For example, a C major scale is C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. The progression of a major scale is two whole steps, one half-step, three whole steps, and one half-step.

Minor Scales

A minor scale is also a group of eight notes that span an octave, but the distances between the notes differ; the progression of a minor scale is a whole step, a half-step, two whole steps, a half-step, and two more whole steps.

Scale Degrees

A scale degree is a name indicating how far a note is from the tonic, the first note of the scale. For instance, the third note of the scale is called the mediant, and the fifth note of the scale is called the dominant.

Key Signatures

The key signature, shown after the clef, tells the musician which notes should be sharp or flat throughout the piece (or until the key changes).

Key Signature Calculation

There are dozens of different possible key signatures, and remembering them all can be tricky. Musicians will sometimes take a shortcut by memorizing seven key signatures and giving each a numerical value that's based on the number of sharps and flats it has. Then, they can do a bit of math from those key signatures to figure out the sharps or flats in any other key.


Introduction to Chords

A chord is a group of three or more notes played together.

Triad Inversion

Inverting a triad chord moves the lowest note of the chord up an octave so that a different note is now the lowest note.

Seventh Chords

A seventh chord combines a triad with a note that's a seventh above the lowest note.

Diatonic Chords

Diatonic Triads

A diatonic triad consists of three notes in the same scale.

Diatonic Seventh Chords

A diatonic seventh chord is a four-note chord that combines a diatonic triad with a note that's a seventh higher than the root in the same scale.

Roman Numeral Analysis: Seventh Chords

Roman numerals can be used to label chords, including diatonic seventh chords. A diatonic seventh chord will be notated with a Roman numeral that's either uppercase (indicating a major triad) or lowercase (indicating a minor triad) followed by a superscript 7.

Chord Progressions

Non-Harmonic Tones

A non-harmonic tone is not part of the underlying chord and can add a sense of tension to the piece.

Phrases and Cadences

A phrase is a piece of a larger work that sounds complete when it's played on its own. A phrase will often end with a cadence, a set of chords that gives a sense of closure to the phrase.

Circle Progressions

A circle progression moves the root of a chord down a fifth or up a fourth to the root of a different chord.

Common Chord Progressions

Some of the most common chord progressions are circle progressions. After listening to enough music, it becomes easier to predict the next chord, simply because a lot of chord progressions are used over and over.

Triads in First Inversion

A triad with a first inversion creates a subtle effect that's good for use in repetitive bass lines.

Triads in Second Inversion

A second inversion, when you invert the chord twice, can be inserted to provide a smoother transition between chords.

Additional Resources on Music Education


Edited by: Ben Thompson