Basics in Music Notation #3: Ledger Lines and Note Stems

Here's the scenario.  You are sitting on a dock, soaking in the sun and the breeze coming off of the water.  

And as you stare out over the water you have a thought:  I want to be on my dock, but also in the middle of the lake for some reason.  

Because I'm a human and I let my abstract thoughts trick me into thinking my current reality is never good enough and I have to come up with weird ways to deal with my inadequacies.

So what happens next?

A floating dock gets made out of spare boards and air tight barrels.  Now you have a dock beyond your dock and you can dock but in the middle of the lake.  

How fun.

Now, what happens when you play a C, but its not high enough, so you reach for a higher C, but you've run out of room to put it on your staff?  Do you resign yourself to be trapped within the lines provided?  Or do you just wait until no one is looking and draw some extra lines?

The beauty is that you don't have to be sneaky about it, this is a real thing.  Lines that are added above or below the staff are called Ledger Lines and are a common occurrence.

Ledger lines are adding your own small lines for the notes to sit on or above to indicate a pitch higher or lower than that of the staff being used.  While they are helpful in a tight spot, they are a bit messy to read so using the proper clefs and markings can help if you have written something using the improper range.

Now, speaking of range, there is something that can help us visually with identifying the range of notes on the staff.  And that is note stems.  You know, the little handles that make the notes look like golf clubs.

Stems on notes do have a proper direction, whether they are placed up or down.  This is an organizational method to make music neater and easier to read.

-All notes on the middle line and above must have stems pointing down, placed on the left side

-All notes below the middle line must have stems pointing up, stems on the right

-Stem length is determined by the note.  A stem will reach the same note name above or below.

-when notes are joined together, the lowest or highest above the centerline will determine the direction of the note stems.

Now send for a boat to come to pick you up from your outer dock in the middle of the lake because one land-locked dock was simply not enough to satisfy you, and come do your exercises to reinforce what you have learned.

EXERCISES for this lesson:

You'll find the next lesson in this chapter here:

Basics in Theory and Notation #4: Time Values

You'll find the previous lesson in this chapter here:

Basics in Theory and Notation #2: The "Other" Clefs

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