Introduction to Music Notation

Introduction to Music Notation

Denis Lambert
[email protected]
Bethel Elementary / Whitcomb High School

TI:ME Technology Areas Addressed:





General Music


computer, notation software, headphones, printer


45-90 Minutes

Prior Knowledge and Skills:

This lesson is intended for students who can read basic music notation. Students should be able to identify notes by name (A,B,C,D,E,F,G) flats and sharps are optional and have the ability to visually identify whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes. They also need to be familiar with the following musical terms: pitch, note value, melody, ledger line, staff, clef (treble/bass).

MENC Standards Addressed:

MENC 4: Composing and Arranging Music within specified guidelines.
MENC 5: Reading and notating music.


Instruction/checklist worksheet
Blank (unlined) white paper
Rulers 1 per student
Pencils 1 per student
Computer template prepared for students (8 measures, single staff, clef, etc.)


Students will use notation software to discover standard notation practice. They will demonstrate this knowledge by properly drawing a musical staff, clef, notes, beams, ledger lines, and bar lines, and by writing answers to notation questions.


1. Instruct students to write 8 measures of melody. After verbally presenting the instructions, distribute a printed instruction page and have students begin work. Guidelines and Limitiations: The melody needs to be original (no fair copying music from a method book or band/chorus music). Use at least 5 different pitches and at least 3 different note values. Use no more than two whole notes. Use no more than three half notes. Use at least two eighth notes. Use notes both above and below the middle line of the staff. Use at least two notes that require a ledger line. The time signature will be 4/4. (Students do not necessarily need to know the time signature while creating the first draft. Check student work, however, to make sure each includes at least 8 measures worth of note values.) Instruct students to complete the activity, using the student checklist to guide them through the process.

2. Have students use a ruler and pencil (not pen) to draw a staff and write their notes. Be sure to tell students that you are not concerned with what notes they write only that they follow the guidelines distributed. This activity involves writing music, but it is not a composition exercise! Since students may not be familiar with measures and time signatures, check to make sure they have written at least enough music to fill 8 measures of 4/4 time.

3. Using any available computers, students should then use a notation program (possibly with keyboard) to input their melody. Having a template ready that includes a title and eight measures of blank music may speed up the process. After the student has entered all the pitches, use the notation programs playback feature to hear the melody. Students can listen to their work with headphones, so as not to disturb others.

4. Have students prepare a second draft that corrects any mistakes made in the first draft. This second draft should look as similar as possible to the computer printout. Tracing is not allowed! Writing a second draft will reinforce the motor skills of drawing musical symbols.

5. Adaptations: Remedial students can work as a group to create one piece. Special needs students could be given a piece of music to copy or trace and the worksheet could be omitted. Advanced students (particularly those with piano background) may find this exercise too simple; challenge these individuals to focus on creating a melody that pleases them or to use dotted or mixed rhythms or try a different time signature.


Students who have successfully completed this activity will have completed a first draft, a computer printout, a second draft that closely resembles the printout, and a worksheet showing the completed student checklist and correct answers to all questions.

Follow Up:

The teacher may wish to follow up this lesson with a worksheet or informal quiz on rules of notation (e.g., drawing clefs, proper stem direction, beaming). Another possibility is to show students examples of several different types of music old piano sheet music, a single line melody for one instrument, a piano/guitar/vocal score, the score for a full band selection, etc. to show similarities and differences. A discussion can follow about topics such as the beaming of eighth and sixteenth notes. The melodies created for this lesson can be used to start a music composition project. (With students permission, the teacher may choose to share created melodies with the class and discuss contour, motives, and compositional techniques.)

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