The Basics of Sheet Music - Reading Rhythm

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Music is dependent on rhythm; therefore, it is very important for composers to be able to notate it accurately. Rhythm is based on 2 basic properties, tempo and time-signature. The tempo is indicated above the first staff, on the practice sheet it is written as 80 beats pr. minute, abbreviated as BPM. This tells us that there is 80 beats or quarter-notes every minute, which means that we know now how fast or slow we should play the song.

The time-signature of the song is notated at the beginning of the staff, on the practice sheet it is 4/4. This is an indication that there is 4 quarter-notes or crochets pr. bar of music, you would count that rhythm as shown in the first staff. There are many other time-signatures that change how the music feels and is played, but 4/4 is the most commonly used one, so we will stick to that for this lesson.

You might have noticed that all the notes on the practice sheet are the same, except for the last few bars, but they are notated differently. Some notes are connected, some are hollow, and some are hollow without the vertical line. Their names and the lengths are explained at the top of the practice sheet. Additionally, as you can see some places in the sheet music, there are notes with a dot beside them, these notes are referred to as “dotted” which means that their length is multiplied by 1.5. This means a dotted quarter note is 3 eight notes long, and a dotted whole note would be 3 half notes long.

Now that you know how rhythm works let’s look at the practice sheet. Like with last lesson it is not advised to immediately pick up your guitar and start playing, I recommend that you start out just reading it and clapping without a metronome. Then when you can comfortably do that start clapping with a slow metronome. When you can do that pick up the guitar and play the rhythms without changing what note you play. This is a very slow process, but this is laying the groundwork for your sight-reading skills. If your rhythm is off, everything you play will sound off.


Thank you for reading and I hope you found it useful and learned a few things. If you enjoyed this lesson and want to learn more, there are many more lessons, covering many different topics here on