How to Look at Sheet Music

© Copyright 2021 Kathryn Sevilla, Ryerson University.

How to Looks at Sheet Music

Music sheet
Cruz, Narding, and Bebot Ramos. “San Roque March.” Print, Philippine Heritage Band, 7 February 2021.

Although music is usually for the ears, there is a forgotten visual element that no one seems to discuss—sheet music. Typically, music is a type of art made for auditory purposes using sounds from instruments and voices. However, you cannot play and memorize music without seeing it first. In the image, you’ll see a sheet of music for the first clarinet position entitled “San Roque March.” Every symbol displayed in all sheet music functions as instructions for the player to abide by. In simpler terms, each character tells you; what notes to play, when to play, repeat or skip, and finally, how to play.

Focusing on the top of the sheet music, you’ll notice the words, “Solo Bb Clarinet or 1st.” “Solo” or “1st” does not title any superiority in the band’s section or being first literally. Looking at “Solo” or “1st,” I see years of waking up at 6:00 am—sharp to ensure proper attendance for rollcall and my phone reminders notifying me, “SUNDAY BAND PRACTICE 3PM.” Moreover, in any sheet music, the term means the music carries a more complex contribution to the entire music piece and requires a player with higher skills and knowledge to play.

Sheet Music
Cruz, Narding, and Bebot Ramos. “San Roque March.” Print, Philippine Heritage Band, 7 February 2021.

To play an instrument, you have to understand the basics of how to read sheet music. There are seven notes: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, and the lines and spaces are measures. Memorizing these notes, I reminisce on practicing with my finger chart for hours and attempting to play solely on muscle memory. The symbol that looks like a fancy backwards ‘S’ at the beginning of the measure is a “treble clef.” This symbol tells the player that the note, ‘G,’ is placed on the measure’s second-bottom space. In other words, the treble clef also means if I do not see a flute, trumpet, alto-saxophone and fellow clarinet players beside me, I am sitting/standing in the wrong section, and I must move immediately.

Moving forward, beside the treble clef is what appears to be a fraction “2/4”. Automatically, the player MUST know that two counts complete one bar instead of the standard four counts. In brief, the fraction is an essential rule to follow to play the music correctly. If there is an arch between notes, that means the notes are played in one breath. Any player should know that each dot is a note and, depending on what they look like, does not just indicate how long to play, but how it is supposed to sound. Reading each bar, I can see my instructor/maestro’s arms flailing inwards and outwards at rapid speed, disciplining us to sit straight and keep up with the beat. Different symbols indicate when to stop playing or “rest.” For example, the image displays a bold horizontal line with the number “16.” This signals the player to rest for sixteen bars, a total of thirty-two counts. Consequently, if you fail to wait and play early during a live performance, you will be held responsible for ruining the show entirely.

Overall, sheet music is a reflection of discipline that requires dedication, commitment, and practice. When you look at sheet music, you will not see lines, dots, and weird symbols but a contract of rules between player and instrument.


Images in this online exhibition are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Work Cited

Arranged by Cruz, Narding. “San Roque March.” Translated by Bebot Ramos. Philippine Heritage Band, 2021. Print.