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How To Read Piano Sheet and Notes Like A Pro: Part 3

Updated: Jun 30

In this blog article, we return to our blog series on how to read piano sheet music and music notation like a pro. In the first two parts of this blog series, we learnt how to identify notes on a treble clef and on a bass clef. We also covered some simple rhythmic notation concepts such as time value, rests, and time signatures. If these are new to you, you might want to head over to the first and second parts of this blog series on reading musical notation first.



For the third part of this blog series, we will learn about:

Quavers, Semiquavers, Demisemiquavers & Hemidemisemiquavers


We have previously learnt about Semibreves, Minims, and Crotchets. In this article, we will be introducing to you the notation for four more time values, namely:

  1. Quaver (also called eighth notes)

  2. Semiquaver (also called sixteenth notes)

  3. Demisemiquaver (also called thirty-second notes)

  4. Hemidemisemiquaver (also called sixty-fourth notes)

Refer to the table below:


You will notice that compared to the time values we've previously introduced (semibreve, minim, crotchet), the new ones that we've introduced in this article (quaver, semiquaver, demisemiquaver, and hemidemisemiquaver) have an extra component to their notation referred to as a flag(s)


You might have noticed from the table above, that each time a flag is added to the stem, the note value is halved. For example,

  • A semiquaver (which has 2 flags) is worth half a quaver (which has 1 flag)

  • A demisemiquaver (which has 3 flags) is worth half a semiquaver (which has 2 flag)

  • A hemidemisemiquaver (which has 4 flags) is worth half a demisemiquaver (which has 3 flag)


Here's also a chart of how the different note values relate to each other:



Dotted Notes & Rests


When a dot is added to the right of a note's note head, it adds half of the original value. To better understand this, take a look at the chart below:


From the above chart, you will find that:

  • The total note value of a dotted semibreve is worth the original semibreve without the dot plus a minim (a minim's note value is half of a semibreve). Hence, a dotted semibreve's total note value (in terms of number of crotchet beats) is 6

  • The total note value of a dotted minim is worth the original minim without the dot plus a crotchet (a crotchet's note value is half of a minim). Hence, a dotted minim's total note value (in terms of number of crotchet beats) is 3

  • The total note value of a dotted crotchet is worth the original crotchet without the dot plus a quaver (a quaver's note value is half of a crotchet). Hence, a dotted crotchet's total note value (in terms of number of crotchet beats) is 1.5

  • The total note value of a dotted quaver is worth the original quaver without the dot plus a semiquaver (a semiquaver's note value is half of a quaver). Hence, a dotted quaver's total note value (in terms of number of crotchet beats) is 3/4

Dotted rests work the same way as well; when a dot is added to the right of a rest notation, it extends the duration of its original value by half.


Semitones & Tones (Half Steps & Whole Steps)


The next notational symbol we will be covering is accidentals. However, in order to understand accidentals, you would first need to understand what is a semitone (also called 'half step') and what is a tone (also called 'whole step').


A 'semitone' is the distance between two notes that are closest to each other on the keyboard. To better understand this, refer to the image of the piano keyboard below:

Recall that the definition of a semitone is the distance between two notes that are closest to each other on the keyboard. Hence, if we were to say 'find the note that is a semitone above F', we would be attempting to find the note that is closest to 'F', and it has to be on right of 'F' because we are attempting to find the note that is a semitone above F, not below. (Notes on a piano keyboard run from low in the left to high in the right)


Here's where many beginners to music theory or those who are new to the piano keyboard would stumble, as many would have answered that the note nearest to F on its right, is G. However, that would have been incorrect. The answer would have been a black key that we are going to simply label as 'Y' for now. See the labelled keyboard below:


We would therefore say that the key labelled 'Y' in the above image is a semitone above the note F.


It is also important to realize a few more things about the above image

  • The note 'G' is a semitone above the key labelled 'Y'

  • The note 'G' is two semitones above the note 'F'

Now that we've learnt what is a 'semitone', we have the means of understanding what a 'tone' is; a 'tone' is the combined distance of two semitones. For example, if we were to refer back to the image above, we would say that 'the note 'G' is a tone above the note 'F'.


You would want to take note that the following two sentences mean the exact same thing:

  • The note 'G' is two semitones above the note 'F'

  • The note 'G' is a tone above the note 'F'

Let's recap one last time before moving on to the next concept:

  • A semitone is the distance between two notes that are closest to each other on the keyboard

  • A tone is the combined distance of two semitones

Element 7: Accidentals


Accidentals are musical notational symbols that that are most often placed beside a note in order to modify it's pitch. There are three basic accidentals that you should be aware of, as labelled in the example music excerpt below

  • Sharp (#): Raises a note by a semitone

  • Flat (b): Lowers a note by a semitone

  • Natural (♮): Cancels out the effects of previous accidentals

You will notice in the above excerpt, that accidentals can appear in one of two places on a music score:

  1. Accidentals may appear on the left side of a note head.

  2. These accidentals modify only the note that it is attached to. For example, in the above excerpt, you will find that the sharp is placed on the left of the F note, hence that F note is raised by a semitone to become an F#

  3. The effect of the accidental will last for the duration of the bar. For example, in bar 2 of the excerpt above, you will notice there are two F notes (labelled in pink), with the first of the F notes having a sharp attached to it, thus making it an F#; and the second F note does not have a sharp attached to it. However, the second F note will also be raised to an F# despite having no sharp symbol attached to it. This is because the effect of the sharp attached to the first F note lasts till the end of the bar, which means to say that, any F note of the same octave that appears after the first F#, will also be raised by a semitone to be an F#

  4. Accidentals may also appear at the start of each line of music as part of a key signature. (labelled in blue in the above excerpt)

  5. These accidentals function as universal modifiers that affect the entire music score. For example, in the above excerpt, the key signature consists of a Bb and an Eb. This means that all B and E notes (regardless of the octave) that appear in the entire music score will be lowered by a semitone to become Bb and Eb respectively. An example of one such note is the Eb note in bar 3 (see green labels on the above excerpt)

For more clarity, here's a diagram illustrating where these above mentioned notes are on the keyboard


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