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Grand Staff in Music: Symbols & Notation

Instructor: Cathy Neff

Cathy has taught college courses and has a master's degree in music.

Do you have trouble with treble? You don't have to! This lesson will teach you all about music's Grand Staff and the clefs it uses, as well as explain the use of notes, rests, ledger lines, and time signatures.

The Grand Staff: Symbols and Notation

In 1967, Captain Kirk and the crew of his starship, Enterprise, found themselves deeply in 'Trouble with Tribbles' as the furry little creatures ate the ship's cargo of grain and multiplied faster than the crew could handle. Sometimes music notation can feel like that when the symbols and notation used to write music seem to multiply faster than we can handle. But there is no 'Trouble with Treble.' We've got this all under control.

The Grand Staff

When you put together a jigsaw puzzle, you put the border together first, so you have a framework for the other pieces. In piano music, this framework is called the Grand Staff, and it consists of two separate staves (plural of 'staff', in case you didn't know) of five lines each. These two staves are connected by a brace on the left side.

Grand Staff

Without a captain to tell them what to do, the crew of a ship is just a bunch of people with no purpose. Likewise, without a clef to tell us what notes are which on a staff, the staff is just a bunch of lines with no meaning. The clef on the top staff is called the treble clef, and it tells your right hand what to do on the piano. The bottom staff uses a bass clef (pronounced 'base'), and it tells your left hand what to do.

These clefs tell us the names of the notes on the staff. Notice the 'curlicue' of the treble clef on the top staff. It wraps around the second line from the bottom and tells us that this line is G; this is why the treble clef is also referred to as the G clef. Now look at the bass clef. Notice that the two dots of the clef are on either side of the second line from the top. This tells us that this line is F, and this is why the bass clef is also referred to as the F clef.

The names of the notes on the piano go from A to G and then start over. The lines and spaces of each staff do the same thing, but 'A' is not conveniently at the bottom of either staff. The lines on the bass staff from bottom to top represent the notes of G-B-D-F-A, which is often remembered by the phrase 'Good Boys Do Fine Always.' The spaces of the bass staff from bottom to top represent the notes A-C-E-G and are remembered by the phrase, 'All Cows Eat Grass.'

Starting at the bottom of the treble staff, the lines represent the notes E-G-B-D-F, which is often remembered by the phrase 'Every Good Boy Does Fine.' The spaces on the treble clef spell the word F-A-C-E from bottom to top.

music grand staff names

You'll notice that there is a big gap in note names between the treble and bass staves of the Grand Staff. The bass staff ends on A, and the treble staff begins on E, so what do we do with B, C, and D? The B is placed on the space directly above the top line of the bass staff, and the D is placed on the space directly below the bottom line of the treble staff. But what about C?

When we run out of lines and spaces above or below either staff, we use what are called ledger lines to temporarily make the staff bigger. Instead of adding a whole new line that runs the width of the page, we shorten it to just around that one note. The C in between the two staves is called middle C, and can be written on either the top or bottom staff:

Middle C

Notes

Music occurs in time and is measured in beats. Different types of notes tell us not only what pitch to play, but also how long to play it. The common notes are the quarter note, half note, whole note, eighth note and sixteenth note and represent the following number of beats, assuming that the quarter note is counted as one beat which we will discuss in a minute:

notes

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