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Parts of Sheet Music

Parts of Sheet Music
All images produced by Eric Tilden. Musical score written and composed by Eric Tilden.

Sheet music is a visual representation of organized sound. It contains all the necessary instructions for a musician to reproduce the sound, including note values, time signature, the clef referencing which part of the musical scale the music is written in, the musical key and emotion of the piece intended by the composer.

Title and Author

Title, Subtitle and Author screenshot

The title of a musical score is located at the top of the first page of sheet music. It is centered along the bottom edge of the top margin, written in a large font with the first letter of each word capitalized. If a subtitle exists for the piece, it is centered below the title in a smaller font. The author or groups of authors are located below the subtitle, right-aligned just above the first line of the music. The songwriter, music arranger and performer information are listed in this area.

Ledger Lines

Ledger lines are the five, equally spaced lines that tell the musician what notes to play. Ledger lines consists of five, straight, horizontal lines that run the width of the page. Each line and space represents a note that can be played, dictated by the line or space that the note is place upon and by the clef or decorative symbol at the beginning of the row of music.


Clefs are symbols derived from letters that represent reference pitches indicating which notes correspond to each line and space. They are written at the beginning of every ledger line of music. For example, the treble clef pierces the second line from the bottom of the ledger lines, which is the pitch G. The bass clef pierces the second line from the top, which points to the pitch called F. The tenor and alto clefs use the same symbol and reference the same note, middle C, which is the center note of a piano. Because the clefs pierce certain lines, they help the musical performer understand which lines and spaces correspond to which notes.

Key Signature

Key signatures are indicated by two symbols, the # sign and the lower case b. The # sign stands for sharp notes and the lower case b stands for flat notes. The placement and the quantity of symbols tells the performer which musical key to perform. For example, if there are three sharps, one located on the top line, one on the second space from the top, and along the top space above the ledger, the key signature is called the Key of A. Each symbol corresponds to the number of sharps and flats located in the musical key. These indicators are written after the clef at the beginning of the ledger.

Time Signature

Time signatures help the musician know the duration of the notes on the ledger line and tell the composer where to divide each section of music into smaller sections called measures. Time signatures are written like fractions without a dividing line. The most common time signature is called four-four time. The top number indicates the number of beats per measure and the bottom number indicates the note that equals one beat. The top four means that there are four beats per measure and the bottom four indicates that the quarter note is equivalent to one beat. The time signature helps the performer to play the score at the proper speed.

Tempo Marks

Tempo marks are abbreviations of Italian words that indicate how fast or slow to play the music and what emotion to include. For example, mp means mezzo-piano. This translates to moderately soft. Another example is ff, which means fortissimo, or very loud. They are written below the ledger line on treble or bass instruments and between the treble and bass clefs of piano music.

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