How To Read Music

Share this Post

How To Read Music

Share this Post


Bar Lines and Measures

The staff is divided with vertical black bars called bar lines.

treble clef on staff with two measures and no notes

Bar lines divide the staff into measures. The above staff has been split into two measures by one bar line placed in the middle.

There are two reasons why we utilize measures in sheet music:

  1. They make it easy to keep track of where we are and help us find our place in a song (if you are asked to go to the fifth measure you can quickly find the right place to start playing).
  2. More importantly, measures help us keep time.
How Bar Lines and Measures Help Keep Time

One of the big rules when writing music is that only a certain number of beats are allowed to go into each measure. By limiting the number of beats in a measure to a fixed amount, composers create a highly structured flow to their songs.

You may have never thought about it before, but songs tend to have a consistency that helps them flow. It’s the relationship between beats and measures that make this happen.

Different Kinds of Bar Lines

So far we have focused on the standard single vertical bar line, but there are multiple different types:

Double Bar Lines

double bar line

Double bar lines are used to indicate that something important is happening in the song that will have a substantial change on how it is played.

End (or Final) Bar Line

end bar line

The end bar line is used to illustrate completion of a song. It is found at the end of the final measure.

Repeat Bar Lines

begin and end repeat bar lines

Repeat bar lines are used to indicate that a passage will be played multiple times.

Begin Repeat: The begin repeat bar line is denoted ||: and tells the musician where they will begin repeating from. Sometimes there will be no begin repeat sign and in this case the musician is to repeat from the beginning of the song.

End Repeat: The end repeat bar line is denoted :|| and indicates the point at which the musician will go back and begin playing from the begin repeat sign. When the end repeat is also the final bar line the song will end after the repetitions have been completed.

This concludes everything you need to know about bar lines and measures. Now it’s time for you to head to the next chapter and learn about the different kinds of notes used in music.