The Musical Staff

Would you like to be able to read music? People seeing sheet music for the first time may get intimidated by all the strange symbols they encounter. Even though it's not rocket science, it does take time and effort to learn how to read music. The good news is that the payoff is great. Learning to read music will open a whole new world for you.

To read music, the first thing you need to learn is how to recognize the notes on the musical staff. The staff consist of five parallel lines, although more lines are often added. These additional lines are to accommodate notes with pitches that won't fit into the five standard lines. The note's vertical position relative to the lines indicates the pitch. The higher the note is above the line the higher the pitch. On the left end of the staff you will also see something called a clef. Its purpose is to provide a key (in fact, that is what the word clef means in French) to the note pitches. The treble clef is normally used for the notes played on piano by the right hand. It's also used for many other musical instruments, including the guitar.

The treble clef is also called G clef because it conveniently sits on the G - line. To help in memorizing the note positions, several mnemonic aids have been invented. The notes located between the staff lines are easy to remember because they form the word FACE. The notes located on the lines indicate the first letters of the phrase "Every Good Boy Does Fine".

Looking at the musical staff, you may be asking yourself a question: What if a note is too high or too low to fit into the small space covered by the five lines? Ledger lines to the rescue! The ledger lines simply extend the musical staff as needed.

The notes that we have looked at so far can be played on a piano by pressing the white keys. But what about the black keys? These keys play notes that are half-tone away from the nearest white keys. So how do we show those notes on the musical staff? Theoretically, it would be possible to place those notes between staff lines and staff spaces, but that would make them really hard to read. The solution is simple: add a little sign just before the note to indicate that it should be played a half-tone higher or lower. The signs used to modify note pitch by a half-tone are called accidentals. They include flat (lower the pitch by half-tone) and sharp (raise the pitch by half-tone).

This short article has given you a very simple introduction to the way music is recorded on paper. If you are serious about learning to read music, many books, websites and software programs are available. What you won't find anywhere else are the interactive quizzes presented on the following pages. They will help beginning students with memorizing the basics of reading music. The quizzes can also be used for student testing.

So, good luck with the quizzes and remember: Every Good Boy Does Fine.

Please select a quiz from this list:

The Musical Staff (treble clef)
topic grades type steps
The Musical Staff (treble clef)K+19

The Musical Staff (bass clef)
topic grades type steps
The Musical Staff (bass clef)K+19

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