Music Theory

This page will help you learn the basics! We will go into greater depth in band class. Please use this page as a reference while practicing at home!


A measure is a segment of time that the musician has to perform a set number of beats (pulses). Each measure is separated by a bar line.

Bar and Bar Line

Time Signatures

In Western music, time signatures are tools that indicate to the player how many beats (pulses) are to be in each measure and which type of note value gets one beat. Here are some examples of time signatures that you will see in our beginning band music:

Time Signatures
The top number of the time signature tells you how many beats are in a measure. The bottom number tells you what type of rhythm gets one beat. In the first time signature above, (4/4 time), there are four beats per measure and the quarter note gets one beat.

The second time signature pictured above is a simple letter “C”. This stands for “common time”, which is 4/4 time.

A 2/2 time signature indicates that there are two beats per measure and that the half note will receive one beat. The time signature with the letter “C” and the vertical slash through it indicates this time signature known as “cut time”.

Reading Rhythm

Rhythm is one of the most important musical concepts when learning how to read music and play that music on your instrument. Rhythms are a system of patterns and sounds that fall on strong and weak beats in the music. The following chart will separate different rhythms and their length according to a 4/4 time signature.

rhythm_notation_chart (1)


A musical clef is a symbol placed at the beginning of a staff that indicates the pitches of the written notes. In band, we utilize two clefs: treble and bass (pronounced “base”).

On the treble clef below, the “curl” of the inside of the symbol rests on the “G” line of the staff. This clef also looks like a “fancy” letter G. This is why the treble clef is often nicknamed the “G Clef”.G Clef

On the bass clef below, the two little dots “hug” the “F” line of the staff. This is why this clef is often nicknamed the “F Clef”.Bass Clef

Treble and Bass Clef Note Reading

Treble and Bass Clef Note Reading

The treble clef (top line), is the clef read by the piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, trumpet, horn, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, and glockenspiel.

The bass clef (bottom line) is the clef read by the bassoon, euphonium or baritone, tuba, and timpani drums.

Percussionists must be able to read fluently in bass clef and treble clef due to the large amount of instruments that they are responsible for learning.

Flats, Sharps, Naturals

Flats, sharps, and naturals are little symbols that appear before a note (on the left side). A flat lowers a note by a half step. A sharp raises a note by a half step, and a natural sign means to play the note at its natural state.

Music Accidentals

Key Signatures

Key signatures are a collection of accidentals (flats and sharps) that make up major and minor scales. Our band music will be played in different keys, so it is very important that we know all of our major and minor scales by the time we are done in band. The following image will depict the major key signatures that we will use in the program. In the first year of playing, you will be playing in concert B-flat Major, concert F Major, concert E-flat Major, and concert C Major. As you progress in the program, we will work in minor keys as well.

All Major Key Signatures


Band instruments are pitched in different keys. For some instruments, the note that they play on their instrument will be the sounding pitch that the listener hears. For other instruments, the actual sounding pitch that the listener hears will be different than the note played on the horn. Here is a transposition chart that will help you understand band instrument transposition:
Screenshot 2018-05-06 12.00.42

ABC Block SOLIDSwhite

A project by Allison Lacasse: 3rd year Practical Application project for completion of a Masters Degree in Music Education at the American Band College of Central Washington University (2018).