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The staff is a set of horizontal lines on which are written the musical notes.

Lines and spaces

A staff is usually composed of 5 horizontal lines.

In some particular cases, we can find staves whose number of lines differs. For example, percussionists often use single-line staves. However, the 5-line staff remains the standard to know, whatever the instrument played.

FIGURE 1 - Standard 5-line staff

Music notes can be written on a line or on a space (i.e. between two lines).

FIGURE 2 - Lines and spaces
Notes on the lines Notes between the lines

Reading direction

Vertical axis

The vertical axis represents the pitch scale of the sounds: the bass notes are at the bottom of the staff, the treble notes at the top. When the notes go from bass to treble, we say that the direction is ascending. When the notes go from treble to bass, we say that the direction is descending.

FIGURE 3 - Ascending and descending direction
Ascending direction (from bass to treble) Descending direction (from treble to bass)

Horizontal axis

The horizontal axis represents the timeline. The notes are disposed one after the other, from left to right. If several notes have to be played at the same time, they will be written on top of each other.

FIGURE 4 - Music read from left to right and from bottom to top
Notes read and played one after the other Notes read from the bottom up, played simultaneously

The music is read from bottom to top and from left to right.

A common mistake for beginners is to read the notes from top to bottom, simply because we are used to reading a text starting from the top. However, take as soon as possible the habit of reading the notes from the bottom up (i.e. from bass to treble). If you practice an instrument that requires several staves (a keyboard instrument like the piano for example), it is also important to read the notes starting with the lower staff then the upper staff.

Reading clefs

To determine the name of the notes written on a staff, it is necessary to place a clef at the beginning of the staff. This clef associates a line with a reference note and thus makes it possible to deduce the other notes written on the staff.

For example, the treble clef (G clef) assigns the G note to the 2nd line of the staff. Thus, all the other notes can be deduced following the scale order.

FIGURE 5 - The Treble clef (or G clef)
G-clef The g is placed onthe 2nd line of the staff From the g, we find the names of the other notesby following the scale in the ascending direction(c, d, e, f, g, a, b, c, etc.) To go down, just take the notesof the scale in the downward direction(c, b, a, g, f, e, d, c)

Last update on 2021/05/07

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