Sight Reading- Guitar Theory Basics

music sheet with notation, clef, time signature etc
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guitar stave
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Have you always wondered what this complex thing is and how to read this? Then you’re at perfect place because after this you’ll get clarity of things that were earlier unclear. We’ll see the basic symbols and gain the basic knowledge of guitar theory. Let’s get started.


Quarter note or crotchet-

All musicians have to count beats when they are learning music. we would count these one-two-three-four and so on according to the time signature(which you’ll get to know in this article) and the beats in per measure or a bar. A quarter note means that you have to play the note on the guitar for one beat but the case may vary if the time signature is different so we can say that the quarter note is the 1/4th of the Whole note.

Half note

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The half note as it’s name suggests is 1/2 of the whole note and lasts for two beats, again this is the case when 4 is at the bottom of the time signature. the half note is also known as minim.

Whole note

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This is the whole note that lasts for 4 beats. This fills all the beats in the bar or measure with 4/4 time signature. It is the longest note currently. It is also known as semibreve.


Quarter rest

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Firstly the quarter rest has the same duration as the quarter note i.e one beat. Here rest is the musical term for silence. To play this silence, just mute the guitar by laying your left hand fingers on all the 6 strings for one beat. this is known as a quarter rest.

Half rest

Half rest guitar note
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Similarly the half rest means that the muting of the guitar or the rest or the silence should last for two beats or for the 1/2 of the whole rest.

Whole rest

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The whole rest symbol is similar to the half one, the difference is that the main body of the symbol is downwards in the whole rest and upwards in the half rest.

Dotted notes

Till now, we saw the quarter note, which lasts one beat, a half note which lasts two beats, and a whole note, which lasts four beats. Let’s introduce you to these dotted notes.

guitar dotted notes
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Any note or rest can be dotted, and the function of this dot is to lengthen the duration of the note or rest by half of it’s value. The two beat half note is lengthen to three beats, similarly the length of other notes are increased by half of their value, as shown in the picture.

NOTE that the fourth note is the eighth note that has the duration of a half beat, so by adding the dot the duration of the note increases to 3/4 beat.


guitar treble clef

For guitar, the treble clef, or G clef, is used. The treble clef indicates that the lines represent E, G, B, D, and F. To remember them, you can learn this common mnemonic device: Every Good Boy Does Fine.  The spaces represent the notes FACE. This is easy for most guitarists to remember because is spells the word face.


guitar time signature
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This is called a Time signature, and it tells us that the piece is in 4/4. This means that there are four quarter notes in every measure or bar. But there are not always four beats in a bar and this sign tells us what to expect. In 3/4 there are 3 beats, In 12/8 the bar contains 12 beats and so on. So what does the bottom number indicates? The bottom number indicates the type of note that will fit into a whole note. For ex. the four in the bottom means that the quarter note will cover the beat as the whole note divided by 4 beats will be a quarter note. In the case of 6/8, eighth note will be used as a whole note divided by 8 gives you the eighth note. So what about 3/2 time signature? Tell me in the comments below.


guitar downstroke and upstroke symbol

As shown in the picture the first sign tells us to downstroke whereas the latter one tells us to upstroke.

guitar repeat sign
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Once the measure containing the closing repeat sign is played the sign tells us to go back to the starting repeat sign and play it again.

double line guitar symbol

This tells us the end of a section of the song and the beginning of the other. The tone, the time signature may change.

This marks the end of the song or the piece.

And by this, the basic knowledge of sight reading or guitar theory comes to an end. Subscribe our newsletter and follow our blogs to get all the knowledge about sight reading from beginning to advance and other music related stuff.


Q1. Is guitar theory important?

Ans. Just like there is theory and practical both for subjects like physics, chemistry etc. Similarly there is theory for guitar that helps us read and play the music on the spot, write our songs and understand the concepts of music. It is important if you’re above the intermediate level.

Q.2 Is it better to learn chords or notes?

Ans. If your end goal is to sing while you play guitar then you should go with the chords part first and if you just want to show your skills on the guitar lead then learning scales and notes is the better option for you.

Q.3 What are the twelve notes on the guitar?

Ans. The twelve notes on the guitar are A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G# where A, B, C, D, E, F, and G are natural notes. Many people ask that why there’s no sharp for B and E and the simple answer to this question is that there’s no answer. There is no pitch higher to B and lower to C similarly there’s no pitch higher to E and lower to F(specifically in guitar as scientifically there is)

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