Music Theory Primer

Music Theory Primer

School Band assumes that you the teacher have no musical training or experience. This section explains all the music theory your pupils will learn during the course so you can become familiar with it before presenting it to your class. 

The stave

Musical notation is written on a stave with five lines.

The stave is divided into bars separated by bar-lines.

The last bar has two bar-lines.

Recorder music is written on the treble clef stave.

The symbol is called the treble clef.

A lot of other instruments are written on the treble clef including guitar, violin and flute.

These are the notes your pupils will learn to read in this course.

They will learn them one at a time, alongside notes they have already learned.



Accidentals include sharps and flats.

Sharps and flats are the black notes on a piano keyboard.

Your pupils will learn these two notes with accidentals.


Key signatures

Your pupils will learn to play in three key signatures.

The key signature of C major has no sharps or flats as none of the notes in this key is sharpened or flattened.

Your pupils will start off in the key of C major.

The notes in G major include one sharp note.

This sharp note is written as the key signature, right after the treble clef symbol.

Instead of sharpening every example of this note throughout the piece the sharp appears only once – as the key signature.

Whenever this note appears you sharpen it automatically.

The same convention applies to this note in the key of F major.


Time signatures

Your pupils will play in two time signatures – 24 and 34.

24 is sometimes called ‘square time’ and 34 ‘waltz time’.

In 24 there are two beats in each bar.

In 34 there are three beats in each bar.



These notes are called quarter-notes.

They each last for one beat.

This note is called a half-note.

It lasts for two beats.

Two quarter-notes equal one half-note.

Quarter-notes are also called crotchets.

Half-notes are also called minims.

Different rhythms are possible with different notes.

In 34 quarter-notes still last for one beat and half-notes still last for two beats.

Two eighth-notes equal one quarter-note.

Eighth-notes can be written separately or joined.

Eighth-notes are also called quavers.


A dot increases a note’s length by half.

A dotted half-note lasts for three beats.

A dotted quarter-note equals three eighth-notes.

A dotted quarter-note lasts for one-and-a-half beats.

All notes can be written with tails going up or down. The choice is typographical only and makes no difference to the pitch or rhythm of the notes.


Percussion notation

Percussion parts are also written on a five-line stave.

With recorder parts the higher the pitch of the sounds the higher up they are written on the stave.

This is not the case with percussion – instead, each percussion instrument has a place on the stave where it is ALWAYS written.

However, its horizontal position is very important – where it appears in each bar shows which beats it is played on.

Percussion parts begin with the percussion clef symbol instead of the treble clef.

The pecussion clef symbol is followed by the time signature.

The ride cymbal has the most distinctive look. Your pupils will learn this first.

It always appears on top of the stave.

The other three percussion parts in this course are written as quarter-notes.

The tom-tom always appears in the top space of the stave.

The snare drum always appears in the space above the middle line.

The bass drum always appears in the bottom space.



Sometimes a part falls silent for a moment.

This is represented by a rest or tacit (pron: tassit).

This is a quarter-note rest and lasts for one beat.

This a is a half-note rest.

It lasts for two beats.

This a is a dotted half-note rest.

It lasts for three beats.

The same rests are used in percussion parts.



A tie joins two notes together to make a continuous sound, often across a bar-line.

In this example you sound the first note and continue to play it until you play the second note of the next bar.

Counting the beats helps you to time ties and is useful in many other instances.

In this case the first note lasts 1 + 2 + 1.