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Learning music

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

Key Points:

  1. In order to learn music, whether it is singing or a music instrument, reading a guide is not enough, you have to find an experienced tutor. Here we only provide a brief introduction about learning music. If you are really interested, you may need to find the best tutor.

  2. WikiHow has many articles talking about music, but each standalone article can't form a solid and comprehensive solution. Therefore, we have rewritten and integrated several articles together to create a better version. However, this is still just a summary of learning music instead of teaching music.

According to Wikipedia, "Music is generally defined as the art of arranging sound to create some combination of form, harmony, melody, rhythm or otherwise expressive content." "Music often plays a key role in social activities, religious rituals, rite of passage ceremonies, celebrations, and cultural activities. The music industry includes songwriters, performers, sound engineers, producers, tour organizers, distributors of instruments, accessories, and sheet music."

Here we quote the best way to learn music provided by wikiHow, a wiki that is building the world's largest and highest quality how-to manual. Please edit the articles and find author credits at the original wikiHow articles on How to Learn Music, How to Read Music, How to Learn to Sing, How to Learn to Dance at Home, How to Learn to Play an Instrument, How to Learn to Play the Piano, How to Play the Violin. Content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons License.

Learning music is a great way to develop a fun and relaxing hobby that also stimulates your mind. Whether you’re interested in learning music theory or playing an instrument, music is actually easier to learn than you might think! Once you’ve mastered the basics, all you have to do is practice a little bit of the more complicated stuff every day, until you’ve eventually gotten a pretty good handle of your instrument or music theory! For learning music theories, singing and dancing, you can easily start learning by yourself. But for playing a music instrument, it's better to find a tutor.

Section 1: Getting to Know the Basics

  1. Study the musical alphabet. The musical alphabet is made up of only 7 letters (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G), but it’s the basic language that musicians use to write and talk about musical notes. Between these 7 notes there are also 5 other notes that are either sharp or flat. Sharp notes are 1 note higher in pitch than the regular letter that it uses, while flat notes are 1 note lower in pitch.

  2. Get to know the basic elements of reading sheet music. Sheet music is written on a set of horizontal, parallel lines called the staff. Other small figures and lines are written on or around the staff to indicate things like which notes are played, how long each note is played for, and what rhythm the music should be played in.

  3. Learn the difference between scale and pitch. Pitch refers to how high or low on an instrument you play a certain note, such as the "C" note. There are 7 keys of difference between 2 different pitches of the same note (e.g., on a piano, you can play an A note in a higher pitch by moving 7 keys to the right). Conversely, scales are sets of notes that sound particularly good when played sequentially and are thus commonly used in songwriting.

  4. Familiarize yourself with chords. Chords are formed when 3 or more notes of the same pitch are played at the same time. After you’ve learned the different notes on your instrument, the next thing you should do is learn some of the most common chords played on it.

  5. Make sure you’re aware of the importance of rhythm. Rhythm, in terms of music, refers to the consecutive arrangement of notes or beats placed at equal intervals of time. This means that you have to allow for the same amount of silence in between each musical note, or else the flow of the piece can be ruined.

Section 2: Reading Sheet Music

  1. Western written music is a language that has been developing for thousands of years, and even the music we read today has been around for over 300 years. Music notation is the representation of sound with symbols, from basic notations for pitch, duration, and timing, to more advanced descriptions of expression, timbre, and even special effects. This article will introduce you to the basics of reading music, show you some more advanced methods, and suggest some ways to gain more knowledge about the subject.

  2. Get a handle on the staff. Before you are ready to start learning music, you must get a sense for the basic information that virtually everyone who reads music needs to know. The horizontal lines on a piece of music make up the staff. This is the most basic of all musical symbols and the foundation for everything that is to follow. The staff is an arrangement of five parallel lines, and the spaces between them. Both lines and spaces are numbered for reference purposes, and are always counted from lowest (bottom of the staff) to highest (top of the staff).

  3. Start with the treble clef. One of the first things you'll encounter when reading music is the clef. This sign, which looks like a big, fancy cursive symbol at the left end of the staff, is the legend that tells you approximately what range your instrument will play in. All instruments and voices in the higher ranges use the treble clef. The treble clef, or G clef, is derived from an ornamental Latin letter G. When notes are added to the staff in the treble clef, they will have the following values: The five lines, from the bottom up, represent the following notes: E G B D F ("Every Good Boy Does Fine"). The four spaces, from the bottom up, represent these notes: F A C E.

  4. Understand the bass clef. The bass clef, also known as the F clef, is used for instruments in the lower registers, including the left hand of the piano, bass guitar, trombone, and so on. The name "F clef" derives from its origins as the Gothic letter F. The staff of the bass clef represents different notes than that of the treble clef. The five lines, bottom to top, represent these notes: G B D F A ("Good Boys Don't Fool Around"). The four spaces, bottom to top, represent these notes: A C E G ("All Cows Eat Grass").

  5. Learn the parts of a note. Individual note symbols are a combination of up to three basic elements: the note head, the stem, and flags. The note head. This is an oval shape that is either open (white) or closed (black). At its most basic, it tells the performer what note to play on their instrument. The stem. This is the thin vertical line that is attached to the note head. When the stem is pointing up, it joins on the right side of the note head. When the stem is pointing down, it joins the note head on the left. The direction of the stem has no effect on the note, but it makes notation easier to read and less cluttered. The flag. This is the curved stroke that is attached to the end of the stem. No matter if the stem is joined to the right or left of the note head, the flag is always drawn to the right of the stem, and never to the left! Taken together, the note, stem, and flag or flags show the musician the time value for any given note, as measured in beats or fractions of beats.

  6. Learn about measure lines. On a piece of sheet music, you will see thin vertical lines crossing the staff at fairly regular intervals. These lines represent measures (called "bars" in some places); the space before the first line is the first measure, the space between the first and second lines is the second measure, and so on. Measure lines don't affect how the music sounds, but they help the performer keep their place in the music.

  7. Learn about timing, or meter. Meter can be generally thought of as the "pulse" or the beat of music. You feel it instinctively when you listen to dance or pop music; the "boom, tiss, boom, tiss" of a stereotypical dance track is a simple example of meter. On a piece of sheet music, the beat is expressed by something that looks like a fraction written next to the first clef symbol. Like any fraction, there is a numerator, and a denominator. The numerator, written in the top two spaces of the staff, tells you how many beats there are in one measure. The denominator tells you the note value that receives one beat (the "pulse" that you tap your toe to).

  8. Learning Rhythm. Get in the groove. Since it incorporates meter and time, "rhythm" is a crucial part of how the music feels. However, whereas meter simply tells you how many beats, rhythm is how those beats are used. Imagine yourself walking. Each footstep will equal one beat. Those are represented musically by quarter notes because in much of Western music (meaning music of the western world, not just the music of Hank Williams!), there are four of these beats for every measure. To make notes faster in music, we add a flag. Each flag cuts the time value of the note in half. For example, an eighth note (which gets one flag) is 1/2 the value of a quarter note; and a 16th note (which gets two flags) is 1/2 the value of an eighth note. Beam up! As you can see with that above example, things can start to get a little confusing when there are a bunch of notes on the page like that. Your eyes start to cross, and you lose track of where you were. To group notes into smaller packages that make sense visually, we use beaming. Learn the value of ties and dots. Where a flag will cut the value of a note in half, the dot has a similar—but the opposite—function. With limited exceptions that do not come into play here, the dot is always placed to the right of the note head. When you see a dotted note, that note is increased by one half the length of its original value. Take a rest. Some say music is just a series of notes, and they're half correct. Music is a series of notes and the spaces between them. Those spaces are called rests, and even in silence, they can really add motion and life to music.

  9. Learning Melody. Learn the C scale. The C major scale is the first scale we use when teaching how to read music because it's the one that uses just natural notes (the white keys on a piano). Once you have that locked into your brain cells, the rest will follow naturally. Learn a little sight singing—or "solfège." That may sound intimidating, but chances are, you already know it: it's the fancy way of saying "do, re, mi."

  10. Reading Sharps, Flats, Naturals, and Keys. So far we've covered the very basics of rhythm and melody, and you should possess the basic skills necessary that you now understand what all those dots and squiggles represent. While this might get you through basic Flutophone class, there are still a few more things you'll want to know. Chief among these are key signatures. You may have seen sharps and flats in music: sharp looks like a hashtag (♯) and a flat looks like a lowercase B (♭). They are placed to the left of a note head and indicate that the note to follow is played a half-step (semitone) higher for a sharp, or a half-step lower for a flat. The C scale, as we learned, comprises the white keys on the piano. When you're beginning to read music, it's easiest to think of the sharps and flats as the black keys. However, one should also note that sharps and flats are on white keys in some situations (for example, when the key signature calls for it). For instance, B sharp is played on the same note as C.

  11. Know the whole tones and semitones. In Western music, notes are either a whole tone or a semitone apart. If you look at the C note on the piano keyboard, you'll see there's a black key between it and the next note up, the D. The musical distance between the C and the D is called a whole tone. The distance between the C and the black key is called a semitone. Now, you may be wondering what that black key is called. The answer is, "it depends." A good rule of thumb is if you are going up the scale, that note is the sharp version of the beginning note. When moving down the scale, that note would be the flat version of the beginning note. Thus, if you are moving from C to D with the black key, it would be written using a sharp (♯). In this case, the black note is written as C♯. When moving down the scale, from D to C, and using the black note as a passing tone between them, the black key would be written using a flat (♭). Conventions like that make music a little easier to read. If you were to write those three notes going up and used a D♭ instead of a C♯, the notation would be written using a natural sign (♮).

  12. Understand key signatures. So far, we've been looking at the C major scale: eight notes, all the white keys, starting on C. However, you can start a scale on any note.[16]If you just play all the white keys, though, you will not be playing a major scale, but something called a "modal scale," which is beyond the scope of this article. The starting note, or tonic, is also the name of the key. You may have heard somebody say "It's in the key of C" or something similar. This example means that the basic scale starts on C, and includes the notes C D E F G A B C. The notes in a major scale have a very specific relationship to each other.

  13. Reading Dynamics and Expression. Get loud—or get soft! When you listen to music, you have probably noticed that it's not all at the same volume, all the time. Some parts get really loud, and some parts get really soft. These variations are known as "dynamics." Notice the accent mark (>). Tap that out, only this time, accent every beat that you see the accent mark. Play it piano, or fortissimo, or somewhere in between. Just like you don't always talk at the same level—you modulate your voice louder or softer, depending on the situation—music modulates in level too. The way the composer tells the musician what is intended is by using dynamic markings. p means "piano," or "softly." f means "forte," or "loud." m means "mezzo," or "medium." This modifies the dynamic after it, as in mf which means "medium loud", or mp, which means "medium soft." The more ps or fs you have, the softer or louder the music is to be played.

  14. Get louder and louder and louder, or quieter and quieter and quieter. Another very common dynamic notation is the crescendo, and it's corollary, the decrescendo or "diminuendo". They are visual representations of a gradual change in volume which look like stretched-out "<" and ">" symbols.

  15. Learn these key signatures. There is at least one for every note in the scale—and the savvy student will see that in some cases, there are two keys for the same note. For example, the key of G♯ sounds exactly the same as the key of A♭! When playing the piano—and for the purposes of this article, the difference is academic. However, there are some composers—especially those that write for strings—who will suggest that the A♭ is played a little "flatter" than the G♯. Here are the key signatures for the major scales: Keys not using sharps or flats: C. Keys using sharps: G, D, A, E, B, F♯, C♯. Keys using flats: F, B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭, C♭.

Section 3: Doing Music Theory Exercises

  1. Identify key signatures written on a sheet of music. The key signature indicates which pitch the notes in the song will be played in. These are represented by sharp images or flat images on 1 of the lines of the staff, corresponding with the key that the song is.

  2. Practice identifying chords, scales, and notes that you hear. This is a part of learning music theory called "ear training." Listen to either a single note, a chord, or a few seconds of a musical instrument being played. Then, try to name the note or notes being played just by listening to them.

  3. Build chords and scales on a staff from scratch. Write out a series of notes on the staff to build chords and scales that sound good in your head. First write the clef, time signature, and key signature on your staff. Then, write the individual notes on the separate lines of the staff that make up the chord or scale that you’re trying to write.

  4. Use an instrument or sing to identify and play notes written on a staff. This exercise trains you to readily translate written music into actual performed sound. Look at a piece of sheet music, identify the notes as they’re written on the staff, and then either sing those notes or play them on an instrument that has the notes marked (e.g., a keyboard).

Section 4: Learning to Sing

  1. Warm up your body and vocal cords before you sing. Exhale completely, relax your stomach muscles, open your mouth, and let all the air back into your lungs. Repeat this, and make an "sss" or "fff" sound when you release the air. These sounds exercise different vocal cords. Hum or sing high notes, alternating with low notes to help stretch out your voice. Exhale as you tilt your head down to 1 shoulder. Then, breathe in as you bring your head back up. Repeat this in the opposite direction. Practice singing a short, 5-note scale. Go slowly and really focus on clearly singing each note.

  2. Develop good posture. Stand straight and tall so you can make the best sounds possible. It's hard to produce clear rich sounds if you're hunched over and your lungs can't expand. Instead, plant your feet and imagine that a string is pulling you up from the top of your head. Keep your knees loose and bring your shoulders down. Try to release all tension from your muscles.

  3. Find your range. Your vocal range reveals the notes you can sing between a high and low point. Most people have a range of around 1 to 2 octaves. To find your vocal range, drop your voice and sing or hum the lowest note you can—hold the note for 3 seconds. Then, bring your voice up until you reach the highest note you can sing or hum and hold the note for 3 seconds. The span of notes in between your highest and lowest notes is your vocal range.

  4. Improve your vocal range. Sing scales starting from your low point to your high point. In order to sing higher without your voice cracking or to sing lower more comfortably, practice singing your highest note before going down the scale by half notes. Then, glide your voice back up. Repeatedly singing your scales can expand your vocal range over time.

  5. Practice hitting the high notes. Stop your voice from cracking by improving your breathing for high notes. Start by opening your mouth and throat wide as though you're yawning. Don't try to sing louder—just breathe steadily as you aim for high notes. It might help to imagine you're jumping on a trampoline as you hit the high note.

  6. Sing from your chest. Create deep resonant sounds when you sing from your abdomen. If your sounds are mainly coming from your throat or nasal cavity, focus more on filling your body with sound. Place a hand on your abdomen and try to engage your lungs as you sing. This really helps your sound resonate and become clear.

  7. Improve your lung capacity. Do breathing exercises to support your voice and prevent gasping. It's no surprise that singers who can breathe deeply and consistently get better mileage out of their voices. For a simple breathing exercise that you can practice anytime, open and close your jaw as though you're a fish out of water. Flex your facial muscles a few times and take a few deep breaths. Let the breath fall to your belly before you steadily exhale.

  8. Practice singing with others. Join a choir to pick up useful singing skills. While singing lessons are great, don't worry if you can't afford them. You can gain valuable singing skills by joining a local choir or community chorus. Plus, you'll make connections and develop friendships with people who are also passionate about singing.

  9. Calm your nerves if your voice is shaky. Taking several slow deep breaths can steady your voice if you're nervous.

  10. Practice with songs you like. Try singing along to a song that you like with a voice recorder nearby.

  11. Keep your voice in good shape. Practice singing every day to develop your singing skills.

  12. Stay hydrated throughout the day. Drink water and rest when you're sick.

Section 5: Learning to Dance

  1. Choose the style of dance that you want to learn. There are so many different types of dance which means that there is bound to be a style that suits you. Look at dance books, watch dance videos online, or see dancers perform to find a style that you want to focus on. Some popular types of dance include ballet, jazz, contemporary, ballroom, and hip hop.

  2. Warm up and stretch before you begin dancing. Jog on the spot for 1-5 minutes until you can feel your heart rate increase. Move your ankle, shoulder, and hip joints in small circles. Stretch out your hamstrings by laying on your back and drawing each knee to your chest and then extending your leg. Repeat lunges 5-10 times to stretch out your thighs.

  3. Cool down for approximately 10 minutes once you have finished dancing. Start to cool your body down by gradually reducing the speed and intensity of your dance workout, to begin lowering your heart rate. Continue dancing, but dance more slowly or pick a slower song. Try not to raise your heart rate again during your workout.

  4. Practice strength and flexibility exercises to improve your dance ability. Dance requires many different forms of exercise to help you feel like a fitter, stronger, and more confident dancer. Practice strength exercises regularly such as lifting weights, climbing stairs, or yoga. Try out pilates, tai chi, or stretching to improve your flexibility.

  5. Practising Dance Moves and Routines. Choose dance videos to follow along to learn the moves and routines. Mirror the movements of the instructor in the dance video. Learn the dance steps and sequences in order. Keep to the rhythm of the music as you are learning. Practice the dance moves and routines until you feel confident. Dance in front of a mirror to see how you can make improvements. Go dancing with your family or friends to have fun with your new moves.

  6. Dancing Freestyle. Follow the beat of the music and move with it. Move your arms and legs to the beat of the music. Have a dance move that you spend most of the time doing. Pick 1-2 other moves that you perform occasionally during the dance.

  7. Performing Basic Moves. Practice the 5 fundamental positions to begin learning ballet. All beginner ballet dancers need to learn the basic positions to create a good foundation for practicing ballet. Your arms and legs change in posture for each position. There are many tutorials and dance videos available online that detail how to perform each ballet position. Learn to do the passe for a simple jazz position. Bend your right leg to the side and turn your knee out. Hold your right leg so that your baby toe is just below your left kneecap. Keep your arms by your sides. Dance the waltz to practice a type of ballroom dancing. Find a partner to dance with. The leader will step forward, to the side, and then back, and the follower will follow along with the same steps. This is called the box step. Do the step-touch as a basic move for learning hip hop. Step to the side with 1 leg, bending your knees slightly as you move. Bring your other leg to join the first and bounce slightly as you step. Let your arms swing gently around your waistline as you step and snap your fingers to the beat of the music.

Section 6: Learning to Play a Music Instrument (See another linked article)

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