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How do musicians interpret notes on the treble clef staff? What types of instruments play notes that are read in the treble clef staff? Who invented the notation system? Find out in this lesson!

The Staff

Quick! Remember these letters in order: E, E, F, G, G, F, E, D, C, C, D, E, E, D, D.

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Can you please repeat that back? No? Well, you must be normal then. Just as you don’t need to memorize every item you have on your grocery list or every word of an essay, musicians don’t need to memorize every note they play. Instead, they use a staff, which is a graphical system used to read and write notes.

Ancient Music Notation

Even the ancient Greek and Byzantine civilizations had systems of notating music. Most often, this consisted of small letters written near the words of a song. In the Byzantine Empire, squiggly marks were used to show the melody. And later, in the 11th century, an Italian monk named Guido D’Arezzo perfected a system of lines for the letters to incorporate a visual reference of each pitch.

Over the next few centuries, this developed into the modern staff we use today.

The Musical Alphabet

In our current music system, there are seven letters that are used to represent pitches. These letters are A, B, C, D, E, F and G. The pitches repeat at higher or lower intervals and always retain the same letter.

The Treble Clef Staff

The modern staff is made up of five lines and four spaces, each of which is reserved for a specific pitch. At the beginning of each staff is a symbol which represents a particular set of pitches – either low, medium or high.

For this lesson, we’ll be focusing on the treble clef staff, which looks like this.

The treble clef staff looks like this
Treble Clef Staff

This curly symbol specifies a set of medium to high pitches. Music written on this staff is for instruments that play medium and high pitches, such as violins, flutes, trumpets and the upper range of the piano.

Lines of the Staff

Each of the five lines on the staff represents a specific pitch.

The lower the line is, the lower the pitch. The higher the line is, the higher the pitch. You can think of it like a mountain. If our friend Billy the note goat is at the bottom of the mountain, we would say he’s at a low altitude. On the staff, these are the lower notes.

As Billy climbs the mountain, he reaches higher and higher altitudes. On the staff, we can see he is reaching higher and higher pitches as he climbs. Each line of the staff represents a specific pitch.Starting from the bottom of the treble clef staff, the lines represent E, G, B, D and F.

The treble clef is sometimes called the ‘G clef,’ because the treble clef symbol circles around the line G. The letters always remain in this order, which makes it easy to use. So, when a note is placed on the bottom line, the musician knows to play or sing the pitch E. If the note is on a higher line, you can simply count which line it is, then find the corresponding letter. So, if your note is on the fourth line, you can simply count over four letters in the sequence. In this case, the note is D, because D is the fourth letter in the sequence.

Since the note is on the fourth line, we know it is D
D Note

A great way to remember the names of the lines is to use a mnemonic device. You may have heard ones like Every Good Boy Does Fine, or Elvis’s Guitar Broke Down Friday or even Everyone Gets Balloons During Fiestas. The best way is to make your own memorable sentence. If the note goat helped you, you can use Elevate, Goat, But Don’t Fall! Let’s look at another example.

Which note is this? Just count the lines, then count the letters in sequence.

What note is this?
B Note

If you said B, you’re right!

Line Note Reading Practice

Now that you can read one note, let’s try two short examples using the line notes. Remember to use your mnemonic device and always start from the bottom.

Which notes are shown in this example?

Which notes are these?
Example Notes

If you said B, E and G, you’re right! OK, one more. Which notes are shown in this example?

How about these?
Since the note is in the third space, we know it is C
What note is this?
A Note

If you chose A, you’re right!Now that you can read one space note at a time, let’s try two short examples. Remember to use ‘FACE’ and always start from the bottom.

Which notes are shown in this example?

Which notes are these?
Example Notes

If you said A, C, E, you’re right! OK, one more. Which notes are shown in this example?

How about these?
More Example Notes

If you said C, A, F, E, you’re right!

Ledger Lines

You may have noticed that when the line notes and space notes are put together, they are in alphabetical order. This is helpful to know when you see notes that extend lower or higher than the range of the staff. These notes are called ledger line notes.

If the ledger line note is above the staff, all you have to do is continue counting the notes in alphabetical order.Because we know that the top line of the staff is F, the next note is automatically G. If we were to continue on, we’d start the alphabet over with A, then B and so on. If the note is below the staff, you count in reverse alphabetical order. So, since we know that the bottom line of the staff is E, the note directly underneath the staff is D, because D precedes E in the alphabet. If notes extend beyond D, you just keep going backwards through the alphabet.In real life examples, the line and space notes are used at the same time.

The note reader uses both ‘E, G, B, D, F’ and ‘F, A, C, E’ to find the notes to play. Here’s an example from Mozart’s ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.’

Here is an example of notes from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Lesson Summary

You now know that a staff is a graphical system used to read notes with five lines and four spaces. These lines and spaces house the notes of the musical alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F and G.

The treble clef symbol looks like this and signifies medium to high pitches being read on the staff.

Here is what the treble clef staff looks like
Treble Clef Staff

Each line and space is assigned a specific note, with the lines being E, G, B, D and F and the spaces F, A, C and E on the treble clef staff, starting from the bottom. You also learned that ledger line notes extend the staff.

Notes above the staff extend in alphabetical order, and notes below the staff extend in reverse alphabetical order.

Lesson Outcome

After viewing this video, a student should be able to:

  • Define staffs used in musical notation
  • Recount how we came to have written music
  • Recite the musical alphabet
  • Recognize the treble clef staff
  • Identify musical notes by their position on the treble clef staff
  • Use mnemonic devices to remember which notes the lines and spaces of the treble clef staff represent
  • Know which types of instruments use the treble clef staff
  • Understand how to read ledger line notes

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