The Staff and Grand Staff


The musical staff or stave is the most popular way of written music down in modern world and it made use of five horizontal line and four spaces. It is the diagram on which musical symbols such as notes, rest, clef signs, sharp and flat are placed in accordance with their corresponding pitch or function.



This is the main frame for all musical symbols used in music. In order for a musician to read music fluently, they have to know how to read and apply all symbols that are placed on the staff.

Each line or space on the staff is for its own note and other musical symbols. Notes can be on a line or in a space. When a note is on a line the staff line runs through the middle of the note. When a note is in a space it sits between the staff lines. We read the sequence of note from left to right.

Notes represent sounds called pitches. Because music employs a set of pitches (ranging from low to high), the staff acts like a map for the notes -allowing us to hear, read or write them as show below:



A less musically specific term for pitch is frequency, which is also referred to as low or high. The higher the note on the staff, the higher the pitch of the sound. It doesn't matter which clef is used, this rule is always the same. If the notes are higher on the staff, they are higher in pitch. If the notes are lower on the staff, they are lower in pitch.

The lines and spaces are numbered from bottom to top; the bottom line is the first line and the top line is the fifth line.

The Clef
The first symbol that appears at the beginning of every music staff is a clef symbol. It is very important because it tells you which note (A, B, C, D, E, F, or G) is found on each line or space. On any staff, the notes are always arranged so that the next letter is always on the next higher line or space. The last note letter, G, is always followed by another A.


The stave, essentially, is mere lines; however, the presence of the clef marking the beginning of the stave is what assigns a certain pitch to the notes. The clef, in other words, helps to accurately relate to the pitch of the musical note placed on or between specific lines on the stave. The primary aim of a music clef is to establish the pitch of a particular line. In short, a clef is used to fix the position of certain high and low notes on the stave.

In the past there have been many different clefs used in music notation, but we will focus on the two main clefs in use today. There are 3 main pitch clefs in use and these are G (or Treble) clef, F (or Bass) clef and C (or Alto/Tenor) clef

Treble (or G) Clef and Bass (or F) Clef
A treble clef symbol tells you that the second line from the bottom (the line that the symbol curls around) is "G". The treble clef has the ornamental letter G on the far left side. The G’s inner swoop encircles the “G” line on the staff. The treble clef notates the higher registers of music, so if your instrument has a higher pitch, such as a flute, violin or saxophone, your sheet music is written in the treble clef.  Higher notes on a keyboard also are notated on the treble clef.


We use common mnemonics to remember the note names for the lines and spaces of the treble clef. For lines, we remember EGBDF by the word cue “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” Similarly for the spaces, FACE is just like the word “face.”

A bass clef symbol tells you that the second line from the top (the one bracketed by the symbol's dots) is F.  The notes are still arranged in ascending order, but they are all in different places than they were in treble clef. The line between the two bass clef dots is the “F” line on the bass clef staff, and it’s also referred to as the F clef. The bass clef notates the lower registers of music, so if your instrument has a lower pitch, such as a bassoon, tuba or cello, your sheet music is written in the bass clef. Lower notes on your keyboard also are notated in the bass clef.



A common mnemonic to remember note names for the lines of the bass clef is: GBDFA “Good Boys Do Fine Always.” And for the spaces: ACEG, “All Cows Eat Grass.”

Both the treble staff and bass staff are used when you are reading sheet music especially the ones that are written for the piano. Below are two diagrams showing the letter names of the treble and bass staff. 




Alto/Tenor (or C) Clef
The C clef is so called because the C clef establishes pitch of middle C on the line bisecting the clef. The two C Clefs in use today are the Alto Clef and the Tenor Clef. The Alto Clef has the 3rd line bisecting the clef, showing the third line to be Middle C. The Tenor Clef has the 4th line bisecting the clef, showing the fourth line to be Middle C.

The Grand Staff
When both treble and bass staffs are joined together, they form what is called a great stave (British English) or grand staff (American English). Below is a picture of the grand staff.



The C in between the two staves is called middle C, and can be written on either the top or bottom staff.

The grand staff is designed for keyboard instruments such as the piano and organ. Therefore it is very important that you know how to read the treble and bass staff fluently. When you are able to read each staff fluently, you will be better able to read both of them together.

Ledger Line
When we run out of lines and spaces above or below either staff, we use what are called ledger lines to temporarily make the staff bigger. Instead of adding a whole new line that runs the width of the page, we shorten it to just around that one note.


Ledger or leger lines extend the staff to pitches that fall below it. It is a short line added above or below the staff. Ledger lines are generally placed behind note heads and are spaced at the same distance as the lines of the staff. Range of notes that go beyond the two staffs are put on extra short lines or between the spaces formed between them.
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