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Lesson 4: The Staff

Lesson 4: The Staff

In my last blog post, I discussed some of the more complex note values and how they are notated. For this lesson, we’ll be taking a look at how notes are placed in musical scores to represent the letters in the musical alphabet.
Music is written on a configuration of lines and spaces called the staff. The staff has 5 lines and 4 spaces, which are always counted from the bottom, as shown below:
Note heads are placed either on lines (so that the line cuts through the middle of the note head) or inside the spaces (so that there is one line above and one line below the note head). The higher up a note head is placed on the staff, the higher the pitch it represents. Have a look at notes written on the staff starting with the first line and going in order all the way up to the fifth line:
At the beginning of every staff (on the left), there is a symbol called a clef that indicates the general area of the instrument (high or low) to which the notes pertain. Piano scores use two clefs: treble and bass.
The treble clef is for the higher pitches on the piano—generally speaking, all pitches above Middle C. Think “Treble = Top”. The treble clef sign is a bit tricky to draw, as it has many curves and twists. You can check it out below and have a go at drawing a few yourself:
In the treble clef, the first line note is an E, which, when applied to the keyboard, is the E just above Middle C. The letters then go up in order from there, making the first space note an F, the second line note a G, and so on. Here’s a breakdown of all the line and space notes on the treble clef with their letter labels:
It can be helpful to memorise letterings for each clef by coming up with an acronym for each grouping from bottom to top: one for the line notes, and another for the space notes. As a kid, I was taught to remember the treble clef line notes with “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” I’ve also heard other teachers use “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge,” which perhaps may appeal more to those of you with a sweet tooth! Treble clef space notes are even easier to remember from bottom to top, as the letters spell the word “Face.”
The bass clef, on the other hand, is for the lower pitches on the piano—those below Middle C. For this one, think “Bass = Bottom”. The bass clef sign is much easier to draw, as it’s less complicated. Consider it as half of a heart with two dots next to it!
In the bass clef, the first line note is a G, which on the keyboard is 11 keys down from Middle C. If you’re counting it out on your piano, make sure to count Middle C as “1” to land in the right place. The letters once again go up in order from there, making the first space A, the second line B, and so on. Here are all the line and space notes on the bass clef with lettered labels:
To remember the bass clef line notes from bottom to top, I was taught “Good Boys Do Fine Always,” and, for the bass clef space notes, “All Cows Eat Grass.” See what you think of these memory tricks, and let me know if you come up with any more amusing acronyms!
Look out for the next lesson, which will explain how notes on the staff can be counted, and don’t forget to subscribe to my mailing list for musical updates!