It makes sense to feel deeply impressed whenever you see and hear a musician play a complex piece of music reading it from a sheet of paper. A justifiable feeling on one hand, because it’s likely they have practiced and studied intensely to hone their skills. On the other hand, reading music actually isn’t all that difficult. No matter if you play piano, keyboard, guitar or drums, any instrument can be used to start with the basics, which include the commonly used C-major scale, also called the key of C. Don’t freak out now, it’s easier than you think!

Learning to Read Music: The C-Major Scale
Is learning to read music notation absolutely necessary to play a musical instrument? Certainly not, but it definitely helps! Playing music by ear can be quite puzzling, but as soon as you know what all those little black symbols mean, you can go out and buy a song or study book and begin practicing pieces you’ve never even heard before.

Table of Contents

The C-Major Scale

The C-major scale includes the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C, which can be seen written on the stave up above. But more on that later. While you don’t need to know the theoretical aspect by heart, it can help speed up the learning process. The curly symbol on the left-hand side of the stave is called the clef (the French word for ‘key’) and, in this case, is the frequently used G-clef, or treble clef. Bear in mind that there are other, less used clefs that include the same order of notes but in a different pitch.

C-Major on the Keyboard, Piano and Guitar

Below, you can see where each of the seven notes can be found on a keyboard/piano and an acoustic/electric guitar. If you happen to have one of these instruments, you can get started right away!

Learning to Read Music: The C-Major Scale


Learning to Read Music: The C-Major Scale


It goes without saying that the C-major scale can also be played on other string, bowed and wind instruments such as the bass guitar, ukulele, mandolin, violin, cello, recorder, trumpet and saxophone. It’s a bit of stretch to show you where you can find the notes on all of these instruments but to make it easier for yourself, at least make sure your instrument is in tune. You can use a tuning device to help you, which can also show you which note you’re playing.

Scales and Keys

Western music is built on twelve different notes but take a look at a piano and you’ll notice a lot more than twelve. That’s because the set of twelve notes is constantly repeated. Imagine a lower-pitched male voice and a higher-pitched female voice singing the same melody: the notes are exactly the same, they’re just sung in a different pitch, or octave as it’s called. Pianos generally span about seven octaves, from very deep-sounding to very high-pitched ones.
The twelve notes I just mentioned have names and are ‘separated’ by constant intervals called semitones (or half-steps/half notes), some of which even have double names. To keep things nice and simple, we’ll skip over the question why this is the case and why they’re called semitones.

Chords: Theory and Chord Symbols

Adding up two half notes naturally creates a whole note. Going from a C to a C#/D-Flat covers half a note, going from C to D covers a whole note, and going from C to D#/E-Flat logically means a whole note and a half jump across. You get the idea, just accept and remember it!


Scales include a combination of any of the twelve musical notes ordered by pitch and form the foundation of every song or composition. While as a composer you’re free to stray from the beaten path, the scale you’ve decided to use for your song remains the cornerstone of the piece. One of the most widely used scales is the major scale, also referred to as the Ionian scale. Hum the famous ‘Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do’ melody and you’ll know what it sounds like. Actually, many simple nursery rhymes and traditional folk tunes only make use of notes from this specific scale.
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star in C-Major:

Learning to Read Music: The C-Major Scale

The major scale can be easily recognised by the following intervals:
whole note – whole note – half note – whole note – whole note – whole note – half note
Starting out with a C, this results in:

C     D     E     F     G     A     B     C
(‌whole ‌whole half  ‌whole ‌whole ‌whole  half)

And there it is, the C-major scale. Other popular scales include the minor, pentatonic and blues scales. Every scale can start with one of the twelve notes. If, for example, you’d begin the major scale with a G, you’d get:

G     A     B     C     D     E     F#    G
(‌whole ‌whole half  ‌whole ‌whole ‌whole  half)

This order still rings true when it comes to the Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Si-melody, albeit in a different pitch. Also, don’t worry about the notation of the F# and how it’s played on the keyboard or guitar. Since this is just to illustrate that scales can begin with any of the relevant notes, we’re saving that for another day.

Practice & Follow-Up Blogs

Take the time to go over the information laid out above a few times, then try to find and play the notes on your instrument. To practice, grab a songbook or pull up a website with a few basic melodies based on the seven notes of the C-major scale. You can use Google to look up sheet music and a metronome to improve your timing. Good luck practicing, and remember to start slowly!
For more on music theory, check out our follow-up blogs:

See also

» Music Theory Books
» All Music Books
» Manuscript Paper
» Notation Software

» Songwriting Tips for Beginners
» How To Tune Your Guitar or Bass
» Improving Your Music Career With 5 Daily Habits
» Recording and Amplifying Vocals for Beginners

1 response
  1. Junior Bethel says:

    Very well 👏 👌 😌 put together

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