50 Music Symbols You Need to Know to Understand Written Music

In sheet music, music symbols are used to describe the way a particular piece of music should be played.

That’s why sheet music is still so important for communicating how to play a piece of music.

But written music uses a lot of different symbols to describe what to play exactly and it can be confusing to know what each symbol means.


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That’s why we’ve put together a master list of music symbols you need to know to read sheet music.

Let’s learn the 50 most important music symbols!

1. Accent

The accent is a sideways V found on the top or bottom of the head of a note.

It indicated that the specific note should be played at an increased dynamic over the other notes in the bar.

2. Arpeggio

arpeggio symbol

The arpeggio symbol indicates to the player that the notes in the chord should be played independently and in a sweeping motion similar to the way an arpeggio is played.

3. Bars

musical bar symbol

A bar or measure in music is symbolized by vertical lines on the staff. The notes of a specific measure are written between each vertical bar.

4. Brace

music brace symbol

The brace symbol is used to indicate that two clefs on a musical staff are connected and should be played together.

It’s used most commonly to visually connect the bass and treble clef in piano music.



5. Breath Mark

breath mark symbol

Breath marks are comma like symbols used between notes to indicate where wind players and choir singers may take a breath between passages.

6. Chord Numerals

chord numeral symbol

In sheet music, you’ll often see roman numerals denoting the chord’s position within the key of a piece of music.



7. Clef

clef symbols

The clef is a symbol used at the beginning of every piece of sheet music. It indicates the note value of each line on the staff.

The clef is a symbol used at the beginning of every piece of sheet music. It indicates the note value of each line on the staff.

There are many clefs in music but the two most common are the treble and bass clef.

These clefs are also known as the G-clef and F-clef because they both indicate where G in the treble clef and F in the bass clef are found respectively.

Choral music also makes use of different C-clefs for soprano, alto, tenor and baritone to indicate where middle C is found on the staff.

8. Coda

coda symbol

The coda serves as a reference point in a piece of music.

For example, when the instruction “to coda” is written the player is expected to continue playing from where the coda symbol is located on the sheet.

The coda is denoted by a circle with a cross through it.

9. Common Time

common time symbol

The common time is 4/4 time. It’s denoted by a C symbol where the time signature is found. It’s simply another way of instructing the player to play 4/4 time.



10. Crescendo

crescendo symbol

A crescendo indicates an increase in dynamic (or loudness) during a piece of music. As the shape opens up the player should increase their volume.

11. Cut Time

cut time symbol

Similar to common time, cut time is another way of writing 2/2 time in the time signature section of a piece of sheet music.

It’s denoted by a C symbol with a bar through it.

12. Da Capo

da capo symbol

“Da Capo” is an instruction given on a piece of sheet music to restart playing the piece from the very beginning.

It’s usually symbolized by the initials D.C. if it’s not expressly written.

13. Dal Segno

dal segno symbol

Similar to Dal Capo, Dal Segno instructs the player to resume playing from a sign symbol found elsewhere in the piece.

It’s usually written as the initials D.S. if it’s not expressly written.

14. Damp

damp symbol

The instruction to damp is symbolized by a circle with an X through it.

For example, the instruction is may be given to a timpani player when a drum must be muted.

15. Damp All

damp all symbol

Similar to Damp, the Damp All symbol is used to instruct a player to damp every part of the instrument that’s ringing at a specific moment.

It’s denoted by two circles with a cross through it.

16. Decrescendo

decrescendo symbol

The symbol for decrescendo is the opposite of crescendo. It indicates to the player a gradual reduction in dynamic over a series of notes.

17. Double Flat

double flat symbol

A double flat symbol is used to indicate that a note is to be played two steps down. It’s symbolized by using two flat symbols together.

18. Double Sharp

double sharp symbol

Similar to the double flat, the double sharp refers to a not that is to be played two semitones up from its natural state.

19. Dynamic Notation

dynamic notation symbols

Dynamics are notated in music with the letters p for piano, m for mezzo and f for forte.

Piano means a quieter dynamic than mezzo piano and forte means to play with a louder dynamic that than mezzo forte.

20. Fermata

fermata symbol

Fermata is a music symbol used to indicate that a note should be held until given a cue from the conductor to continue playing.

21. Flat

flat symbol

A flat note is a note played one semitone below its natural state.

22. Fortepiano

fortepiano symbol

The fortepiano music symbol tells the player to abruptly shift from a loud dynamic to a quiet dynamic.

23. G-clef Ottava Alta

g-clef ottava alta symbol

An ottava alta g-clef indicates that all notes on the staff should be played one octave higher.

24. G-clef Ottava Bassa

g clef ottava bassa symbol

An ottava bassa g-clef indicates that all notes on the staff must be played one octave lower.

25. Glissando

glissando symbol


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A glissando symbol instructs the player to slide in pitch up and down from note to note.

26. Grace Note

grace note symbol

A grace note is a short note that’s played quickly and quietly before the main note on the downbeat.

27. Hemiola

hemiola symbol

A hemiola in music defines a rhythmic ratio of 3:2. It’s notated with a bracket and the number three if the music is in duple meter or the number two if the music is in triple meter.

28. Key Signature

key signature symbol

The key signature is symbolized in music by a series of sharps or flats at the beginning of a piece on a musical staff.

29. Marcato Accent

marcato accent symbol

A marcato is a slightly more intense accent than a regular accent.

30. Multi Rest

multi rest symbol

A multi rest indicates that the player should rest for multiple bars.

31. Music End

music end symbol

A double bar is the music symbol used at the end of the piece to indicate where it ends.

32. Natural

natural symbol

A natural note is a note that’s neither sharp nor flat.

33. Note

note symbol values

Notes are used to communicate rhythms and pitches. There’s many different kinds of notes, each signifies a specific subdivision in duration relative to a whole note.

Notes are used to communicate rhythms and pitches. There’s many different kinds of notes, each signifies a specific subdivision in duration relative to a whole note.



34. Ottava Alta

ottava alta symbol

Ottava alta indicates that the notes on the sheet should be played one octave higher than what’s written.

35. Ottava Bassa

ottava bassa symbol

Ottava bassa indicates that the notes on the sheet should be played one octave higher than what’s written.

36. Percussion Clef

percussion clef

A percussion clef is used to indicate that the sheet music is written for atonal instruments that aren’t subject to a specific pitch. Usually, this applies to percussive instruments.

37. Repeat

repeat symbol

A repeat symbol indicates to the player to repeat a section, either from the top or from the repeat start symbol.

38. Rest

rest value symbol

Rests are used to communicate when a player should be silent. There are many kinds of rest, each with a time length value based on a subdivision of a whole rest.

Rests are used to communicate when a player should be silent. There are many kinds of rest, each with a time length value based on a subdivision of a whole rest.

39. Segno

segno symbol

Segno is the sign where a player resumes playing after passing a dal segno instruction.

40. Sforzando

sforzando symbol

Sforzando calls for a loud and abrupt increase and decrease in dynamic.

41. Sharp

sharp symbol

A sharp symbol indicates that a note must be played one semitone higher than its natural state.

42. Simile

simile symbol

In sheet music, a simile symbol indicates that the player should repeat what’s written in the previous bar.

43. Staccato

stacatto symbol

A staccato mark on a note indicates that the player should play the note shorter and more abbreviated than it’s typical value.

44. Staff

staff symbol

The staff in sheet music the five horizontal lines around which notes are written. The staff is the base structure for all written music.

45. Sustain Pedal Engage

sustain pedal engage symbol

The sustain pedal engages symbol indicates to a piano or vibraphone player to depress the sustain pedal and let the notes ring out.

46. Sustain Pedal Release

sustain pedal release symbol

The sustain pedal release symbol indicates to the play that the sustain pedal should be turn off at a specific point in the piece.

47. Tenuto

tenuto symbol

The tenuto marking tells the player to sustain the note to its absolute maximum values. Tenuto notes should as little space as possible between them.

48. Time Signature

time signature symbol

The time signature is the stacked number symbol at the beginning of a piece of music. It dictates the meter and number of beats in a bar.

49. Tremolo

tremolo symbol


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The tremolo markings indicate the player should play the notes in a rapidly repeating way to create a tremolo effect.

50. Volta Brackets

volta brackets symbol

Volta brackets tell the player to play an alternate ending section after a repeat.

Music symbols are important

Now you know pretty much every symbol used in sheet music.

With a little bit of practice, you’ll be reading and playing music without thinking twice about the music symbols on the page.

The post 50 Music Symbols You Need to Know to Understand Written Music appeared first on LANDR Blog.