What Are Musical Notes?

In general, music contains tones of varying lengths.  Each of these tones can be captured on paper as notes.

Okay, but what are musical notes exactly?

Definition of “Note”

A note is a symbol used in music writing to represent the duration of a sound.  When the note is placed on a music staff, its pitch is also indicated.

This definition tells us there are two important elements of musical notes.  They can:

  • Tell us how long the note should be held, and
  • The exact pitch to be played when appearing on the staff.


Some people say the key of an instrument is also called a musical note.  I disagree with this.

The keys or buttons of an instrument are exactly what they are…keys or buttons.  They are not notes.  Instead, think of them as gadgets we use to play notes we read on paper.

We need to read the musical notes first in a piece of music before we can play it on our instruments.

Using this term too loosely creates a lot of confusion for everyone.  Just focus on musical notes as written notation used to tell us how long to play a note and what pitch to use.

Learn to Read Musical Notes

If you want to play a note, you need to learn how to read them on paper.  The best way to learn an instrument is to also learn how to read music.

Yes, you can learn how to play music by ear, but this may limit you on what you are able to play and take a whole lot longer.  Learning how to read music is the true key to opening up all possibilities in your playing career.

Also, if you can read music, you will no longer have to keep a bunch of songs in your memory bank.  The music itself will tell you everything you need to know in order to play it.

It’s a lot easier to store your music in a file cabinet than it is to store it in your memory.  I don’t know about you, but my file cabinet can hold a lot more music than my memory can.  Just ask my students…J

What are Musical Notes Again?

They are music symbols that tell us what pitch to play and how long to play it.  It’s as simple as that.

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