The Musical Staff
The staff (also called stave, plural: staves) consists of five horizontal, parallel lines, upon which all musical notes, clefs etc. are placed.
The music staff looks like this (except, the lines are longer, spanning the entire width of the page). There are five lines and four spaces in a staff. When counting the lines and spaces, we count from the bottom line and bottom space. For example, the 1st line is the bottom line whereas the 5th line is the top line.
Right now, the staff has no meaning. If we place notes on the lines or in the spaces, we won't know what notes they are because there are no clefs. Scroll down to learn about clefs.
I will point out here that notes with stems, when placed on the first and second lines, or in the first and second spaces, are drawn with their stems going up (and to the right). On the fourth and fifth lines and in the third and fourth spaces, the notes are drawn with their stems going down (and on the left). On the third line, the stems may go either up or down.
In modern music, two clefs are used. They are the Treble Clef (G clef) and the Bass Clef (F clef).
The Treble Clef
The treble clef looks like this. I'm sure you've seen this crazy looking sign somewhere before. It is also called the G clef. Here's why: Look at the second line (remember that we count from the bottom line go up). The treble clef begins by wrapping itself around the second line. Notes drawn on this line become the note G. For this reason, the clef is also called the G clef. Notes on the treble clef represent high sounds.
The Bass Clef
To the left is the Bass clef or F clef. It's called the F clef because the clef is drawn from the fourth line of the staff. Notes placed on this line become F, hence we have, the F clef. Notes on the Bass clef represent low sounds.
Note Names on the Treble Staff
So we know what the staff is and we've been introduced to the Treble and Bass clefs. Now we're going to learn about what note names each line represents and each space represents.
Lines on the Treble Staff
The notes on the lines of the treble staff, from bottom to top (1st to 5th) are E, G, B, D and F. I've heard many different phrases used to help student memorise these names like: Every Good Boy Deserves Food, or Every Good Boy Deserves Football etc. In this example, I used semibreve or whole notes. However, if I wanted to, I could have used half notes, quarter notes, or any other type of note. This would have no effect on the resulting pitch of the note.
Spaces of the Treble Staff
The notes in the spaces spell out the word FACE. The 1st space is F, 2nd A, 3rd C and 4th E Again, for this example, I used whole notes, since they are the simplest notes to draw.
Note names on the Bass Clef
Notes on the Lines
Now we're going to learn about the notes on the lines of the bass clef. The notes, from 1st line to 5th are: G, B, D, F and A. The phrase I learnt to remember these notes is "Good Boys Deserve Food Always" although I've heard things like "Grizzly Bears Don't Fly Airplanes" and "Good Boys Deserve Fun Always." Be creative and make your own, or use any phrase mentioned here!
Notes in the Space
To the left, I've shown notes placed in the spaces of the Bass Clef. From bottom to top, the notes are A, C, E and G. The only helpful phrase I've heard about notes in the space is: "All Cows Eat Grass"
Putting them all together...
So I know this lesson has been a long one. But bear with me. Now, we're going to put all the notes that we've learnt, together. When we put both Treble and Bass Clefs together, we get The Grand Staff.
You may have noticed a note on its own line. This note is neither on the the Treble nor is it on the Bass staff. The line on which it is drawn is called a ledger line. Think of a ledger line as an extra line drawn to show that a note is placed on a line. It is drawn as a short line so as not to confuse the person reading the music.
Notes on the piano
Let's relate these written notes to the keys on a piano.
Time to review!
Below, I've included 2 videos that sum up nicely everything I've done here. The first is a summary of notes on the treble staff, and the second, the bass. Enjoy!
Download and print the following test to see if you can name all the notes!