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How to Read Notes of the Bass Clef Staff

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  • 0:05 The Staff
  • 0:59 The Musical Alphabet
  • 1:24 The Bass Clef Staff
  • 2:04 Spaces of the Staff
  • 3:45 Lines of the Staff
  • 5:27 Ledger Lines
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Diamond-Manlusoc

Liz has taught music for K-12 and beyond. She holds a master's degree in Education Media and Design Technology.

How do musicians interpret notes on the bass clef staff? What types of instruments play notes that are read in the bass clef staff? How is the bass clef staff different from the treble clef staff? Find out in this lesson!

The Staff

A ruthless killer is on the loose! The killer has for some reason left some musical clues as to his or her whereabouts. However, the clues are written in bass clef, and the notes on the bass clef staff are different than those on the treble clef staff. Let's review the notes of the bass clef staff to strengthen the skills we'll need to read the ransom note!

A killer left a ransom note coded in bass clef notes!
Bass Clef Ransom Note

Ancient Music Notation

The clues in the ransom note are written on a staff, which is a graphical system used to write and read notes. 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

The first step in solving the ransom note is knowing which pitches exist in 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 Bass 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 bass clef staff, which looks like this.

This is the bass clef staff
Bass Clef

This ear-shaped symbol specifies a set of low to medium pitches. Music written on this staff is for instruments that play low and medium pitches, such as basses, bassoons, trombones and the lower range of the piano. The bass clef staff is easy to use because, starting from the bottom space, the letters of the lines and spaces follow the musical alphabet.

Spaces on the Staff

Between the five lines there are four spaces. Each space represents a specific pitch. The lower the space is, the lower the pitch. The higher the space is, the higher the pitch. Starting from the bottom of the bass clef staff, the spaces are A, C, E and G. So when a note is placed on the bottom space, the musician knows to play or sing the pitch A. If the note is on a higher space, you can simply count which space it is, then find the corresponding letter. So if your note is on the third space, you can simply count over three letters in the sequence. In this case, the note is E, because E is the third letter in the sequence.

Since the note is in the third space, we know it is E
E Note

A great way to remember the names of the spaces is to use a mnemonic device, like All Cows Eat Grass or All Cars Eat Gas. The best way is to make your own memorable sentence. Let's look at another example. Which note is this? Just count the spaces, then count the letters in the sequence.

What note is this?
G Note

If you chose G, you're right!

Space Note Reading Practice

Now that you can read one space note at a time, let's try two short examples. Remember to use ACEG and always start from the bottom. Which notes are shown in this example?

Which notes are these?
Notes

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

How about these?
Notes Example

If you said C, A, G, E, you're right!

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. Each line of the staff represents a specific pitch. Starting from the bottom of the bass clef staff, the lines represent G, B, D, F and A. The bass clef is sometimes called the F clef because the bass clef symbol has two dots that surround the line F. The letters always remain in this order, which makes it easy to use. You can remember this sequence of letters with the mnemonic sentence Grizzly Bears Don't Fear Anything. So when a note is placed on the bottom line, the musician knows to play or sing the pitch G. If the note is on a higher line, just count the lines and find the corresponding letter in the sequence. In this case, the note is D, because D is the third letter in the sequence.

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

Let's look at another example. Which note is this? Just count the lines, then count the letters in sequence.

What note is this?
F Note

If you said F, 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?
Line Notes Example

If you said B, A, G, you're right! Okay, one more. Which notes are shown in this example?

How about these?
Second Line Notes Example

If you said F, A, D, you're right!

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