To identify notes, one first learns to identify the musical staff and the two major clefs used. Next, the learner can progress to differentiating actual note values, how they are drawn and connected. After that, the learner can finally begin examining notation illustrating time signature.
The staff possesses five lines, each corresponding to a note represented by a letter. Empty spaces in between each line also represent notes. On the treble clef, lines one through five represent notes EGBDA respectively, with the interior spaces representing FACE. On the bass clef, the lines represent GBDFA; the spaces, ACEG. The learner may consider using a mnemonic device, such as an acronym, to enhance memory. ACEG, for example, can be remembered as "all cows eat grass."
To differentiate note values, the learner need remember that empty notes lacking tails are whole notes (four beats), empty notes with tails are half notes (two beats) and opaque notes with tails are quarter notes (one beat). Further flourishes identify eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and so on. Vertical bands on the sheet music indicate changes in measures, and sometimes a linking arc connects notes across the band, meaning the note must be sustained into the next.
Experts insist that new learners take their time when first learning to read notation, as it is must be completely committed to memory. Constant practice in writing the notation is also extremely helpful.