Basics in Music Notation #1: The Musical Staff

Any good story has a beginning.

Although Star Wars starts in the middle of an epic space battle, you can figure out who is fighting who and what the deal is pretty quickly.  

The introduction gives you the ins and outs of what to expect so you can understand what comes next.

Sometimes, the introduction is boring and it sucks.  That's life.  Not everything is space wizards and laser swords, but that doesn't make it any less important.

For music theory, the beginning is right here.

A note.

A note is a letter name given to represent a tone or musical sound.  Our note above is not quite there, as there is no way to measure or identify it.  

To give it context, we give it a little magic when it is written and organized on a set of parallel lines.  

This is called a STAFF

To avoid confusion and trouble with reading, the staff is divided as opposed to having every note on one giant staff.  

So here are the important points:

- the position of the note on the staff denotes its PITCH, how high or low the note is.  Higher the pitch, the higher position on the staff.   C and C may be the same note but they could be completely different in pitch.

- A symbol called a CLEF is placed on the staff to indicate which range of pitches the lines of the staff represent.  This is helped by the fact that the names of notes are arranged alphabetically, so if one pitch is given, the rest are easily identified.

- The most common clefs used are the Treble clef and the Bass clef (both shown above in the grand staff picture)

- Treble clef (also known as the G clef) curls around the second line of the staff, indicating the note G.

- Bass clef (also known as F clef) has two dots surrounding the fourth line of the staff indicating the note F.

Now for the tricky part: where do the notes go?  Where do I put my sultry C or my dashing F?  

Let's explore the staves and their respective clefs to find out.
We saw the notes sprawled out across a grand staff earlier.  

Let's break that down a bit to make this a little easier on your fragile eggshell mind.

If you recall, the treble clef curls around the second line on the staff, which is G.  

The first space below it, therefore, is F.  

The spaces ascending from there are A, C, and E respectively.  

FACE in your space is a good mnemonic device to remember the names of the notes and their location.

The bottom line of the staff is E, followed by G, B, D, and F respectively.  

This gives us the ludicrous acronym of "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge" with which to remember the lines in the treble clef.  

What if said boy is diabetic or intolerant of lactose?  Alas, this is what we have to work with.

Now onward to the bass clef.  The bottom space gives us A, and ascending from there we have C, E, and G respectively.  

This knee slapper of an acronym is "All Cows Eat Grass".  Once again, simple and effective.

If you recall, the bass clef is also known as the F clef, because the two dots and the curl are centered around the F line on the staff.  

Starting from the bottom line and ascending, we have G, B, D, F, and A respectively.  

And, in classic best for last fashion, our acronym is "Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always".

Yeah.  I know.  

That isn't even how people talk.  And it is reusing the other one we did with the treble clef.  But, here we are, and you need a way to remember this stuff.

And that concludes Lesson #1.  

The end of the beginning of the beginning.

Head over to the exercises for this lesson to test your knowledge and sharpen your skills.

Intro to Theory Ex#1: Identify Notes in the Treble Clef

Intro to Theory Ex#2: Identify Notes in the Bass Clef

For the next lesson in this chapter, head over here:

Basics in Music Notation #2: The "Other Clefs"

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