Musical Notation part one: The Music Staff

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This free lesson on musical notation begins with learning the names of the lines and spaces on the music staff, treble and bass clefs, and a study of key signatures.


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 The illustrations below will show how the different notes, rests and various other musical symbols appear on the staff and how those notes and symbols translate to the keyboard.

Introducing the Music Staff

The music staff (treble clef or G clef) consists of 5 lines and 4 spaces between the lines.

From the bottom up the lines are lettered E, G, B, D, and F.

You may remember the little memory device Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.

The spaces are lettered F, A, C, E, and spell the word FACE.

The funny looking symbol on the far left of the staff is called a Clef Sign or to be more specific, a Treble Clef Sign or G clef sign.

The note you see on the staff is on the G line and notice that the clef sign has a little tail that sort of wraps around the G line. Not sure how useful that info is unless you are actually writing music.

What the G clef sign means to you is that for the most part any notes written on that staff will be played with the right hand.

So what about the left hand?

For musical notation we add another staff with a different symbol called the Bass Clef or F clef sign. Notice that the two little dots are above and below the F line on the Bass clef. Any note placed on that line is the F below middle C.


From the bottom up the lines on the Bass staff are named G, B,, D, F, A, and can be remembered with the sentence Good Boys Do Fine Always.

The spaces are named A, C, E, G, and can be remembered with the sentence All Cows Eat Grass.

We tie the two staffs together and we have the Grand Staff.

In the diagram below we have the grand staff with the note middle C located on what is called a ledger line between the two staffs.(on the piano, middle C is the one closest to the center of your keyboard). The grand staff allows the pianist to see musical notation for both the left and right hand at the same time.

A thought about the Grand Staff...

While learning musical notation requires that we learn to identify notes on both treble clef and bass clef, Sight reading the grand staff will not be the focus of our lessons on the piano keyboard. An interest in learning classical music would require more concentration on sight reading. If you are interested in learning classical music there are some great programs available that I can recommend.

Now....back to notation....

The illustration below shows the notes from C one octave below middle C to C one octave above middle C. Notice that the C note just above the bass clef and just below the treble clef are the same note on the keyboard(middle C).

Now lets add some more musical notation.

Key Signature

The two sharp signs you see just after the G clef sign are called a key signature. It tells us what Key the song is in. If your know your major scales you know that the D major scale has two sharps in it, F # and C#. The sharp signs are placed on the C space and the top F line and tell the musician that unless otherwise marked all C and F notes will be raised one half step. It saves us from having to write the sharp signs in front of the notes on the staff. That would be messy in the key of F# or C#.

Time Signature.

The time signature, in this case 4/4, tells the pianist how the song flows in terms of rhythm. In this case the song is counted in groups of 4 beats. It is by far the most common time signature. There is a joke about musicians only being able to count to 4! Its not true! Its just drummers. Sorry guys!

Measure Lines or Bar lines.

The bar lines divide the staff in to measures which are basically rhythmic groupings of notes and rests. In our example above, the time signature tells us that there will be 4 beats, or counts in each measure and that a quarter note will receive one count.

Ledger Lines.

Since there are more notes on the piano than there are lines and spaces on the grand staff, we use these little Ledger Lines to extend the staff both above and below and allow us to notate notes in the upper and lower ranges of any instrument.

Repeat Signs.

The repeat signs you see pictured above tell us that the music between these two markers will be repeated.

Rest signs.

Between the two repeat signs above are pictured the musical notation symbols for common rests. Rests are by definition, marked periods of silence. We see pictured the Whole rest, Half rest, Quarter rest, and the Eighth rest.

While these are not all the musical notation symbols you will encounter, they are some of the more common. We will add more as we encounter them in our playing, and in subsequent lessons.



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After checking out dozens of home study courses that teach you to play by ear and focus on chord progressions I am convinced that the folks at Hear and Play have the best, most well rounded program available for just about all styles of music from Gospel to Jazz. Read my review or visit Hear and Play for more information.

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If you have any questions, suggestions, or ideas for future lessons feel free to Contact Me.

Moving on....

To continue our lesson on musical notation click the link below for a lesson on rhythmic notation and note values.

Rhythm notation and note values
from Music Notation to How to read music
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