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Music Symbols and Their Meanings: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet

Confused with music symbols
Confused with music symbols

Join us as we dive into the depths of the different music symbols and their meanings.

When it comes to reading sheet music, there are hundreds of symbols that you need to learn before you can even think of playing off of it. All the different symbols used for various musical instruments also make it even more challenging.

That’s why we have committed a few days of our time to put together all the musical symbols you need to learn in one place.

In this article, you’ll learn musical symbols ranging from lines, clefs, rhythmic symbols, key signatures, and everything in between.

Let’s dive right in.

Confused with music symbols
Confused with music symbols

Lines

Lines symbols in musical notation often relate to the non-notation markings to help composers write and organize the clefs, notes, and other symbols involved in a piece. These lines help the performers read the sheet music better and understand where they are in the piece.

Staff or stave

Close look at staff musical symbol
Close look at Staff musical symbol

The staff (American) or stave (British) are five horizontal lines that indicate a different musical pitch or different percussion instruments. Each line and space refer to either specific notes or percussion instruments.

Ledger or leger lines

Close look at ledger or leger lines
Close look at ledger or leger lines

The ledger lines notate higher or lower pitches outside the lines and spaces of the regular musical staff. Lines above indicate a higher pitch, while lines below lower indicate a lower pitch.

Barline

Close look at the barline music symbol
Close look at the barline music symbol

Barlines separate musical bars according to the time signature of the piece. This helps musicians keep track of where they are in the sheet music.

There are several different types of barlines: double barline, bold double barline, and dotted barline.

Double barline

Double bar line musical symbol
Close look at the double barline music symbol

A double barline usually appears at the end of a section to tell the performers of the upcoming changes in the pitch, tone, or pace. Pop songs usually have a double barline between the verse and the chorus.

Bold double barline

Close look at bold double bar line musical symbol
Close look at bold double bar line musical symbol

A bold double barline marks the end of the piece. It looks like a regular double barline but with a thicker second line.

Dotted barline

Close look at dotted bar line musical symbol
Close look at dotted bar line musical symbol

A dotted barline is the modified version of a regular barline. It divides long bars into shorter segments to help performers read the sheet music.

Bracket

Close look at bracket musical symbol
Close look at bracket musical symbol

Brackets connect two or more lines of music that need to be played simultaneously. A bracket usually connects staves of individual instruments (e.g., flute and clarinet) or multiple vocals in modern music.

Brace or accolade

Close look at brace musical symbol
Close look at brace musical symbol

A brace connects two or more lines of music that need to be played simultaneously by a single player when using a grand staff. Braces usually connect staves for piano, celesta, harp, organ, and some pitched instruments.

Clef

A clef is a musical symbol that indicates which notes are represented by the lines and spaces on a musical staff.

These symbols often appear at the beginning of the section in a musical staff. Clef can be placed on any line or space on the musical staff, but modern notations usually only use treble, bass, alto, or tenor clef.

G clef or treble clef

Close look at treble clef musical symbol
Close look at treble clef musical symbol

The spiral bit of the G clef points to where the G (or sol) is located on the staff. When the spiral is located on the second line of the staff, it’s called a treble clef.

Treble clef is the most common clef used in modern music – even more common than the alto and tenor clef.

C clef or alto and tenor clef

Close look at C clef or alto and tenor clef musical symbol
Close look at C clef or alto and tenor clef musical symbol

The center part of a C clef marks the line representing middle C/do. If the center part points to the third line, it becomes an alto clef, which is common in viola. If the center point is at the fourth line on the staff, it becomes a tenor clef, which is mainly used for bass, cello, trombone, and double bass.

F clef or bass clef

Close look at F clef musical symbol
Close look at F clef musical symbol

An F clef marks the line that represents the F/fa note in between the two dots. When the F is placed on the fourth line, the symbol is called a bass clef.

Octave clef

Close look at octave clef musical symbol
Close look at octave clef musical symbol

An octave clef modifies the treble and bass clef to indicate whether the pitch sounds higher or lower than natural. An “8” means one octave, and a “15” means two octaves.

In the example above, the note is an octave lower than natural since the “8” is placed below the staff. If it was placed above the musical staff lines, it means that the note is an octave higher than natural.

Neutral clef

Close look at the neutral clef
Close look at the neutral clef

Neutral clef often appears in pitchless instruments like the drums. The lines here indicate specific instruments, such as the different drums in a drum set.

The neutral and tablature are not true clefs since they do not indicate pitches.

Tablature

Close look at the tablature musical symbol
Close look at the tablature musical symbol

The tablature doesn’t represent pitches in any way, but it replaces regular staff for string instruments like the guitar. The lines in a tablature represent the string of an instrument (e.g., a standard 6-string guitar would use a 6-line tablature).

Symbols for the Rhythmic Values of Notes and Rests

Musical notes indicate the relative duration of a note using the shape of a note head, note stem, and note flags. Rests indicate silence of the equivalent duration as the musical notes.

These symbols have two varieties: one for the musical note and another one for rests.

Large or octuple whole note

Close look at large or octuple whole note musical symbol
Close look at large or octuple whole note musical symbol

The octuple whole note or large (British) was a musical notation used in the 13th and 14th centuries. It was typically four, six, or nine times as long as a breve – but it’s no longer used in modern music.

Long or quadruple whole note

Close look at long or quadruple whole note musical symbol
Close look at long or quadruple whole note musical symbol

The quadruple whole note (or long, longa, or sometimes longe) is a note that could be either twice or three times as long as a breve.

Breve or double whole note

Close look at breve or double whole note musical symbol
Close look at breve or double whole note musical symbol

The double whole note has twice the duration of a whole note and is the longest note in Western music notation – but it’s rarely used in modern music. It was widely used in music notation coming from the late renaissance era.

Semibreve or whole note

Close look at semibreve or whole note musical symbol
Close look at semibreve or whole note musical symbol

A whole note or a semibreve (British) is a musical notation that counts as four beats – and it looks like a hollow circle with no stem attached to it in a 4/4 piece.

Minim or half note

Close look at minim or half note musical symbol
Close look at minim or half note musical symbol

A minim (British) or a half note (American) is half as long as a semibreve. It counts for two beats and is represented as a hollow note head with a stem attached to it.

Crotchet or quarter note

Close look at crotchet or quarter note musical symbol
Close look at crotchet or quarter note musical symbol

A crotchet (British) or a quarter note (American) is half as long as a minim or a quarter as long as a semibreve. It counts for one beat and is represented with a filled-in notehead with a stem attached to it.

Eight note or shorter notes have an increasing number of note flags, starting from one flag (eighth note) to six flags (1/256th note).

Quaver or eight note

Close look at quaver or eight note musical symbol
Close look at quaver or eight note musical symbol

A quaver (British) or an eight-note (American) is a musical notation that counts as one eight the duration of a whole note. One quaver counts for half a beat – two quavers complete one beat.

Semiquaver or sixteenth note

Close look at semiquaver or sixteenth note musical symbol
Close look at semiquaver or sixteenth note musical symbol

A sixteenth note (American) or a semiquaver (British) is a note that counts as half of the duration of an eighth note. One semiquaver counts for one quarter of a beat – four semiquavers complete one beat.

Demisemiquaver or thirty-second note

Close look at demisemiquaver or thirty-second note musical symbol
Close look at demisemiquaver or thirty-second note musical symbol

A thirty-second note or a demisemiquaver is a note that counts as 1/32 of the duration of a whole note. Eight demisemiquavers complete one beat.

Hemidemisemiquaver or sixty-fourth note

Close look at hemidemisemiquaver or sixty-fourth note musical symbol
Close look at hemidemisemiquaver or sixty-fourth note musical symbol

A sixty-fourth note is a musical notation that counts as 1/64 the duration of a whole note and half as long as the thirty-second note. Sixteen hemidemisemiquaver counts for one beat.

Semihemidemisemiquaver / quasihemidemisemiquaver / hundred and twenty-eighth note

Close look at semihemidemisemiquaver musical symbol
Close look at semihemidemisemiquaver musical symbol

As the name implies, the hundred and twenty-eighth note is a musical notation that plays for 1/128 duration of the whole note. A semihemidemisemiquaver counts for one 32nd of a beat.

Demisemihemidemisemiquaver / two hundred fifty-sixth note

Close look at demisemihemidemisemiquaver musical symbol
Close look at demisemihemidemisemiquaver musical symbol

The two hundred fifty-sixth note is a musical notation that plays for 1/256 of the duration of a whole note. This note counts for one sixty-fourth of a beat, which means 64 of these complete one beat.

Beamed notes

Close look at beamed notes musical symbol
Close look at beamed notes musical symbol

A beam is a horizontal or diagonal line used to connect multiple notes that appear consecutively. Beamed notes indicate a rhythmic grouping and can only contain eight notes (quavers) or shorter notes.

In music theory, a rhythmic grouping is when two or more notes are joined together with a beam based on the time signature used in a piece.

Dotted notes

Close look at dotted notes musical symbol
Close look at dotted notes musical symbol

A dotted note is a musical notation with a small dot placed right after it. The first dot increases the duration by half of its original length. The second dot extends the note’s duration by half of the duration of the first dot – and it goes on for the next subsequent dots.

Ghost notes

Close look at ghost notes musical symbol
Close look at ghost notes musical symbol

A ghost note is a note that contains a rhythmic value, but not pitch or timbre. Guitarists often execute ghost notes by muting the strings, whereas drummers play ghost notes very softly in between accented beats. It’s represented by a saltire cross (that looks like an X) in the place of what usually is a note head.

Multi-measure rest

Close look at multi measure rest musical symbol
Close look at multi measure rest musical symbol

A multi-measure rest (a.k.a gathered rest or multi-bar rest) is a symbol to indicate multiple measures of rests in a piece that go through many bars.

Breaks

Break symbols tell the performers to take short breaks, whether by breathing or allowing a brief space between notes or phrases during the piece.

Breaks are instructions for the performer’s action in playing the music, whereas rests are musical notation that translates into silences.

Breath marks

Close look at breath marks musical symbol
Close look at breath marks musical symbol

A breath mark instructs the aerophones performers to take a breath or other instrument players to leave a very brief space. For instruments with a bow, it instructs the player to lift the bow and start the following note with a new bowing direction.

Caesura

Close look at caesura musical symbol
Close look at caesura musical symbol

A caesura indicates a break or pause in a verse, usually to separate one phrase from the next. It can be symbolized by a comma, a tick, or two straight or slashed lines.

Accidentals

In music, accidentals are notes of a pitch that aren’t the official member of the scale indicated by the key signature. The sharp (♯), flat (♭), and natural (♮) are the most common markers for these notes.

Flat

Close look at flat musical symbol
Close look at flat musical symbol

In music, a flat means that a note is lower in pitch. A flat mark means the note has a one-semitone lower pitch than its natural form.

Semitones are also known as half-step or half-tone

Sharp

Close look at sharp musical symbol
Close look at sharp musical symbol

In music, a sharp means that a note is higher in pitch. A sharp mark indicates that the pitch of a note is one semitone higher than its natural form.

Natural

Close look at natural musical symbol
Close look at natural musical symbol

Depending on the key signature, the notes in a section may have pre-assigned sharps or flats as stated at the beginning of the staff. A natural mark neutralizes these pre-assigned sharps or flats and brings the note back to its natural pitch.

Double flat

Close look at double flat musical symbol
Close look at double flat musical symbol

A double flat means that the pitch of a note is two semitones lower than its natural form. The double flat is typically used when the note is already flat in the key signature.

Double sharp

Close look at double sharp musical symbol
Close look at double sharp musical symbol

A double sharp means that the pitch of a note is two semitones higher than its natural form. The double sharp often appears when the note is already sharp in the key signature.

Key Signatures

Key signatures indicate which notes need to be played as sharps or flats.

Notes that are sharp or flat in a key signature dictate that they will be played as such all the way to the end of the piece.

The key signatures are typically illustrated in the circle of fifths, a circular diagram used to summarize the relationship among the 12 tones of the chromatic scale, their corresponding key signatures, and the associated major and minor keys.

Circle of fifths musical symbol
Circle of fifths musical symbol
Understanding the circle of fifths will help you understand the relationship among 12 tones of the chromatic scale. Learn more about it here.

Microtones

Microtonal music doesn’t have a universally accepted notation method due to the varying systems used depending on the circumstances. Microtones are very common in pieces for instruments that have more flexibility and spaces between notes. It’s almost non-existent for piano pieces since the piano is limited to half semitone movements.

These are the most common microtonal notation forms right now:

Demiflat

Close look at demiflat musical symbol
Close look at demiflat musical symbol

A demiflat is represented by a flipped flat symbol. It lowers the pitch of a note by a quarter of the natural sound. Another way to write a demiflat is by drawing a diagonal slash through a flat symbol.

Flat-and-a-half

Close look at flat and a half musical symbol
Close look at flat and a half musical symbol

A flat-and-a-half lowers the pitch of a tone by three-quarter tones. It’s also common for a flat-and-a-half to be represented with a slashed double flat symbol.

Demisharp

Close look at demisharp musical symbol
Close look at demisharp musical symbol

A demisharp raises the pitch of a note by one quarter of the tone.

Sharp-and-a-half

Close look at sharp and a half musical symbol
Close look at sharp and a half musical symbol

A sharp-and-a-half mark raises the pitch of a note by three-quarter tones. It also occasionally appears as two verticals and three diagonal bars.

Harmonic flat

Close look at harmonic flat musical symbol
Close look at harmonic flat musical symbol

The harmonic flat lowers the pitch of a note to match the indicated number of the harmonic series of the root note, which is the lowest note in a chord. The harmonic series of a note refers to a series of higher frequencies that occurs when a note is played.

Time Signatures

The time signature is a notational convention that specifies how many beats are in each bar and tells which note value (the duration of a note) is equivalent to a beat. In sheet music, the time signature appears at the beginning as a time symbol or a stacked numeral like C or ¾.

Most people wrongfully pronounce time signatures as fraction (i.e. three-fourth), but the correct pronunciation is ‘two-four’, ‘three-four’, ‘four-four’, etc.

Simple time signatures

Close look at simple time signature musical symbol
Close look at simple time signature musical symbol

A simple time signature consists of two numbers stacked together. The upper numeral indicates the number of beats, whereas the lower numeral indicates the note value for one beat. The most common examples of simple time signatures are 4/4, 3/4, 2/4, 3/8, and 2/2.

Compound time signature

Close look at compound time signature musical symbol
Close look at compound time signature musical symbol

In a compound time signature, the upper number of the beat is evenly divisible by three (e.g. 6/8, 12/8, and 9/4). It signifies that the beats in the piece are broken down into three-part rhythms, with the exception of time signatures with three as the upper number.

Common time

Close look at common time musical symbol
Close look at common time musical symbol

The common time signature (C) is often used to represent a 4/4 time (imperfect time). While the symbol looks like the letter C, it’s derived from a broken circle used in music notation from the 14th to 16th centuries.

Alla breve

Close look at alla breve music symbol
Close look at alla breve music symbol

Alla breve, or cut time, is a musical meter notated by a C with a vertical line through it. The alla breve is equivalent to 2/2 in the time signature.

Metronome mark

Close look at metronome mark musical symbol
Close look at metronome mark musical symbol

The metronome mark shows the speed of the music by using the beats per minute (bpm) measurement. A metronome mark can either be precise, i.e., 176 bpm, or in a range, i.e., 152-176 bpm.

Note Relationship

Symbols in this category represent the relationship between one note and another. These symbols tell the performer how to transition between notes to get the best melody and harmony.

Tie

Close look at tie musical symbol
Close look at tie musical symbol

A tie is a curved line connecting the heads of two notes with the same pitch. Tied notes are an indication that they should be played as a single note with the total duration of both notes.

Slur

Close look at slur musical symbol
Close look at slur musical symbol

Notes bound by a slur means that the performers should play them without separation. It’s represented with a curved line above the notes if the stems point downward and below the notes, if the stems point upwards.

Glissando or portamento

Close look at glissando or portamento musical symbol
Close look at glissando or portamento musical symbol

A glissando represents a glide from one pitch to the next. Instruments like the trombone, timpani, and cello can continuously make this glide, which will be classified as portamento.

Tuplet

Close look at tuplet musical symbol
Close look at tuplet musical symbol

A tuplet is any rhythm that involves dividing a beat into subdivisions permitted by the time signature. Tuples are played by fitting in the number of fractions within the duration of the subdivision. The example means that there are 5 notes that need to be played within the duration of four notes.

Chord

Close look at chords musical symbol
Close look at chords musical symbol

Chords are several notes that are played simultaneously to form a harmonic set of pitches or frequencies. Two-note chords are called dyads, while three-note chords are called triads.

Arpeggiated chord

Close look at arpeggiated chord music symbol
Close look at arpeggiated chord music symbol

Arpeggiated chord is a broken chord where the notes that compose it are played in a quick succession in an ascending or descending order. A regular squiggly line (or with an upwards arrow) means ascending order, whereas a squiggly line with a downward arrow means descending order.

The word arpeggio originates from arpeggiare, which is Italian for ‘to play on a harp.’

Dynamics

The dynamics of musical pieces indicate the level of loudness between notes or phrases. These symbols determine how loud or quiet the performer should play a note.

Pianississimo

Close look at pianississimo music symbol
Close look at pianississimo music symbol

Pianississimo means that the tone has an extremely quiet pitch.

Pianissimo

Close look at pianissimo music symbol
Close look at pianissimo music symbol

Pianissimo means that the tone has a very quiet pitch.

Piano

Close look at piano musical symbol
Close look at piano musical symbol

Soft, but louder than pianissimo. The word ‘Piano’ itself means “quiet.”

Mezzo piano

Close look at mezzo piano music symbol
Close look at mezzo piano music symbol

Mezzo piano means that the note has a slightly soft volume but is still louder than the piano.

Mezzo forte

Close look at mezzo forte music symbol
Close look at mezzo forte music symbol

Mezzo forte means that the note has a moderately loud volume.

Forte

Close look at forte music symbol
Close look at forte music symbol

Forte means that the note is quite loud – but still at an average level.

Fortissimo

Close look at fortissimo music symbol
Close look at fortissimo music symbol

Fortissimo means that the note has a very loud volume, even louder than a regular forte.

Fortississimo

Close look at fortississimo music symbol
Close look at fortississimo music symbol

Fortississimo means that the note has an extremely loud volume.

Sforzando

Close look at sforzando musical symbol
Close look at sforzando musical symbol

It translates into “forced,” indicating an abrupt and fierce accent on a single sound.

Crescendo

Close look at crescendo musical symbol
Close look at crescendo musical symbol

A crescendo means that the note will gradually get louder as it plays on.

Diminuendo

Close look at diminuendo musical symbol
Close look at diminuendo musical symbol

A diminuendo means that the note will slowly get quieter as it plays on.

Niente

Close look at niente music symbol
Close look at niente music symbol

Niente translates to “nothing.”

Mostly used at the beginning of a crescendo to indicate that the sound will start from nothing (no sound) or at the end of diminuendo to indicate the sound will fade out to nothing.

Articulation Mark

Articulation marks determine how a single note or phrase in a musical staff should be played. These marks often determine the start and end of a note and the length of its sound.

Staccato

Close look at staccato musical symbol
Close look at staccato musical symbol

A staccato indicates that the performer should play the note half a value shorter than what is notated and leave the remainder of the duration silent. It may appear on a note of any value and shorten the piece’s duration without speeding up the music.

Staccatissimo

Close look at staccatissimo musical symbol
Close look at staccatissimo musical symbol

A staccatissimo indicates that the performer should play the note even shorter than a staccato – usually a quarter of the original duration. It usually appears on the quarter or shorter notes.

Tenuto

Close look at tenuto musical symbol
Close look at tenuto musical symbol

A tenuto indicates that the performer should play the note at its full length or slightly longer. It sometimes also indicates a certain level of emphasis, especially when appearing together with dynamic markings.

Fermata

Close look at fermata musical symbol
Close look at fermata musical symbol

A fermata instructs the performer to play a note, chord, or sustain a rest longer than its notated value. The duration of a fermata is entirely up to the performer or conductor.

Accent

Close look at accent musical symbol
Close look at accent musical symbol

An accent indicates that the performer should play the note louder or with more emphasis than other notes. It can appear to modify notes with any duration – long or short.

Marcato

Close look at marcato musical symbol
Close look at marcato musical symbol

A marcato is the extreme version of an accent. A note with a marcato marking means that the performer should play the note even louder or with harder emphasis than notes with a regular accent mark.

Ornaments

While articulation marks affect the way a note sounds (i.e. longer, shorter, stronger, etc.), ornaments are used to ‘decorate’ the note without having actual effect on the note itself to bring variety.

Trill

Close look at trill musical symbol
Close look at trill musical symbol

A trill marks a rapid alternation between a note and the following higher note within its duration as determined by the key signature. The rill ornament is also known as a “shake”.

Upper mordent

Close look at upper mordent musical symbol
Close look at upper mordent musical symbol

Notes with an upper mordent tell the performer to play a single alternation between the primary note and the next higher note.

Both trill and upper mordent involve the primary note and the one above it. However, a trill is a rapid alternation that often has more than one or two repetitions. On the other hand, Mordent (upper or lower) only does the alternation once.

Lower mordent

Close look at lower mordent musical symbol
Close look at lower mordent musical symbol

Notes with a lower mordent tell the performer to play a single alternation between the primary note and the note below it.

Gruppetto or turn

Close look at gruppetto or turn musical symbol
Close look at gruppetto or turn musical symbol

When a note has a gruppetto directly above it, the sequence starts with the upper auxiliary note, primary note, lower auxiliary note, and back to the primary note.

Appoggiatura

 Close look at appoggiatura musical symbol
Close look at appoggiatura musical symbol

An appoggiatura is played by adding an ornamental note that temporarily displaces the chord note before going back to the chord note. It often appears in the first or third beats of the bar in 4/4 time.

Acciaccatura

Close look at acciaccatura musical symbol
Close look at acciaccatura musical symbol

A musical ornament that modifies arpeggiated chords to be played with a chord tone a one or half tone below and immediately released.

Octave Signs

Octave signs indicate that multiple notes should be played an octave (or two octaves) higher or lower depending on the mark used. An 8va means one octave higher, and 8vb means one octave lower. When two-octave changes are involved, the mark turns into 15ma or 15mb.

Ottava

Close look at ottava musical symbol
Close look at ottava musical symbol

An ottava is drawn above or below the staff to instruct the performer to play the passage one octave higher or lower. There are two types of this sign: ottava alta (higher) or ottava bassa (lower).

Quindicesima

Close look at quindicesima musical symbol
Close look at quindicesima musical symbol

The quindicesima sign is drawn above or below the staff to instruct the performer to play the passage two octaves higher or lower.

Repetition and Codas

The repetition and codas help the performers understand the piece’s flow better by marking sections that they need to play and repeat.

Tremolo

Close look at tremolo musical symbol
Close look at tremolo musical symbol

A tremolo sign means that the note(s) should be played rapidly and repeatedly. If it appears between two notes, they should be played alternatively in a similar manner.

Repeat signs

Close look at repeat signs
Close look at repeat signs

Repeat signs are used to enclose a passage that needs to be played one more time. The right repeat sign indicates the point where performers need to start repeating. The left repeat sign marks where the repetition starts.

Simile marks

Close look at simile marks
Close look at simile marks

Tells the performer that they must repeat the previous group of bars. A singular diagonal line means to repeat the previous bar; a double diagonal line means to repeat the previous two bars.

Volta brackets

Close look at volta brackets musical symbol
Close look at volta brackets musical symbol

The volta brackets tell the performer to play the repeated passage with different endings on each iteration. There are typically only two endings, but the usage of 3rd ending or more isn’t unknown.

Da capo

Close look at da capo
Close look at da capo

Da capo tells the performer to go back to the beginning of the music and play it over. There is usually either al fine or al coda following this mark – resulting in a D.C. al fine or a D.C. al coda.

Segno

Close look at segno musical symbol
Close look at segno musical symbol

A segno is a symbol used to put a ‘mark’ on a specific passage or note. This works complementary with Dal segno.

Dal segno

Close look at dal segno
Close look at dal segno

Dal segno tells the performer to play the music over starting from the nearest segno. Similar to da capo, there’s usually al fine or al coda following dal segno – resulting in a D.S. al fine or D.S. al coda.

Coda

Close look at coda musical symbol
Close look at coda musical symbol

A coda indicates a jump to the last passage of the music that has the same sign. This sign is only used after the performer has played through D.S. al coda or D.C. al coda.

Instrument-Based Symbols

Because each instrument is played differently, there are some symbols that exclusively work for specific instruments. Here are some of them:

For bowed string instruments

These notations are specifically used in bowed-string instruments like violin, cello, and lyra. While some of these symbols are also applicable on several other instruments, they aren’t as universal as other music symbols.

Left-hand pizzicato or stopped note

Close look at left-hand pizzicato or stopped note musical symbol
Close look at left-hand pizzicato or stopped note musical symbol

A left-hand pizzicato is a note played by plucking the string with the left hand rather than the bow on a stringed instrument.

Snap pizzicato

Close look at snap pizzicato musical symbol
Close look at snap pizzicato musical symbol

A snap pizzicato on a stringed instrument is a note played by pulling the string away from the instrument frame and letting it go – thus, making the ‘snap.’ It’s also known as Bartók pizzicato.

Natural harmonic or open note

Close look at natural harmonic or open note musical symbol
Close look at natural harmonic or open note musical symbol

A natural harmonic (also known as flageolet) is played by applying slight pressure with the finger on the various nodes of the open strings.

Up bow or Sull’arco

Close look at up bow or Sull’arco musical symbol
Close look at up bow or Sull’arco musical symbol

A Sull’arco note means that the note should be played while dragging the bow upward.

Down bow or Giù arco

Close look at down bow or Giù arco musical symbol
Close look at down bow or Giù arco musical symbol

Inversely, a Giu arco note means that the note should be played while dragging the bow downward.

Guitar symbols

In fingerstyle (or fingerpicking) guitar notation, each finger on the left hand (which stops the strings) is indicated with a number.

The right-hand fingers (that pluck the strings) are notated with the first letter of their Spanish name.

Fingerstyle guitar notation by finger name
Fingerstyle guitar notation by finger name

Piano pedal marks

Pedal marks often appear in musical instruments with sustain pedals, including the piano, vibraphone, and chimes. Sustain pedals allow the notes to play longer by pulling the dampers away from the strings, allowing them to vibrate more freely.

Engage pedal

Close look at engage pedal musical symbol
Close look at engage pedal musical symbol

The engage pedal symbol tells the performer to put the sustain pedal down.

Release pedal

Close look at release pedal musical symbol
Close look at release pedal musical symbol

The release pedal symbol tells the player to let go of the sustain pedal.

Variable pedal mark

Close look at variable pedal mark musical symbol
Close look at variable pedal mark musical symbol

The variable pedal mark indicates the precise usage of the sustain pedal. Lower lines tell the performer to play the notes above it with the pedal pressed down. The symbol means the performer to release the pedal momentarily.

Con sordino, una corda

Close look at con sordino, una corda musical symbol
Close look at con sordino, una corda musical symbol

Tells the performer to press on the soft pedal (piano) or apply the mute (other instruments).

Senza sordino, tre corde

Close look at senza sordino, tre corde musical symbol
Close look at senza sordino, tre corde musical symbol

Tells the performer to let go of the soft pedal (piano) or remove the mute (other instruments).

Drum notation

Drum notation is a way to write down sheet music specifically for percussion instruments – basically a language for drums.

Percussion instruments, including drum sets, use the percussion clef on the musical staff. In a drum notation, the different symbols represent different parts of the drum set.

Drum notation musical symbol (From: SchoolOfRock)
Drum notation musical symbol (From: SchoolOfRock)

Conclusion

Learning musical symbols is a challenging task, but it’s not impossible. As you practice using musical staff, you will slowly remember what every symbol means. Before you know it, you’ll be reading the symbols like a book.

So, if you are a classical musician, student, or fan of any music genre and want to learn more about the fantastic world of music, feel free to bookmark this article so you can come back to this as needed!

Do you know of any musical symbols that we didn’t cover here? Still confused about something? Let us know in the comments below.

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