The staff:  The staff is written with five horizontal parallel lines.  Most of the notes of music are placed on or between these lines.  Extra lines can be added if a note falls above or below the staff.  Vertical bar lines divide the staff into short sections called measures or bars.  A double bar line is used to mark the end of a larger section of music including the end of a piece which is usually a heavy double bar line.

Musical Staff

The most important symbols on the staff are the clef symbol, the key signature and the time signature.  these all appear at the beginning of the staff.
Many different symbols can appear on, above or below the staff.  The notes and rests are the actual written music.  a note stands for a sound and a rest is silence.  The clef, time signature and key signature tell you very important information about the notes and measures.  Symbols that appear above or below the music may tell how loud to play, how fast it goes or even how to play a particular note.
Staff Symbols



The first symbol that appears at the beginning of a stave is the clef.  It could be a treble or bass clef symbol.  The Clef is important because it tells you which notes go with each line and space.  For example the treble clef tells you that the second line from the bottom is a G, if you were in bass clef it would be a B.

Treble Clef

Bass Clef


One of the first things a music student is asked to do is memorize the notes in both the treble and bass clefs.  Below is a very helpful way to do this.

Treble clef note names

Bass Clef note names

Why use different clefs?  Music is much easier to read if notes fall on lines or spaces.  By using the 2 clefs most of the notes commonly used will fall within these 2 clefs making it much easier to read.  Middle C is the note that splits the 2 clefs. 

middle C

Pitch - sharps, flats and naturals

The pitch of a note is how high or low it sounds.  Pitch depends on the frequency of the fundamental sound wave of the note.  The higher the frequency, the shorter the wave length and the higher the pitch sounds.  Musicians don't usually talk in terms of wave length and frequency.  Instead, they give then letter names. A, B, C, D, E, F and G.  These seven letters represent the natural notes of an octave.  when you get to the eighth natural note you start a new octave.   On a keyboard the white keys are natural notes and the black keys are sharps of flats depending which key signature you are in.



In western music we use a 12 tone scale consisting of 7 natural notes and 5 sharps or flats.  Sharp, flat or natural symbols can appear in the key signature or next to an individual note.

Sharps and flats

A sharp sign means the the note is played 1/2 step above the natural note.  a flat sign means the note is played 1/2 step below the natural note.  Some natural notes are only a half step apart but most are a whole step.  When they are a whole step apart the note between them can only be named using a sharp of flat sign.  Notice that the same pitch can have a different name.  G# is the same pitch as Ab.  B# is the same pitch as C.  The keyboard is very useful to visualize these relationships.

Key Signatures:


The key signature comes right after the clef symbol on the staff.  It may have some sharp symbols on lines or spaces or flat symbols on lines or spaces. but not both.  If there are no sharp or flat symbols after the clef then all notes are natural.  Clef and key signatures are the only symbols that always appear on every staff because they are so important.  The clef tells you the letter name of the note and the key signature tells you whether it is sharp, flat or natural.

Key Signatures