Back To CourseMusic 101: Intro to Music
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Liz has taught music for K-12 and beyond. She holds a master's degree in Education Media and Design Technology.
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!
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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
If you chose G, you're right!
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?
If you said A, C, E, you're right! Okay, one more. Which notes are shown in this example?
If you said C, A, G, E, you're right!
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.
Let's look at another example. Which note is this? Just count the lines, then count the letters in sequence.
If you said F, you're right!
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?
If you said B, A, G, you're right! Okay, one more. Which notes are shown in this example?
If you said F, A, D, you're right!
You may have noticed that when the line notes and space notes are put together, they are in alphabetical order. This is helpful to know when you see notes that extend lower or higher than the range of the staff. These notes are called ledger line notes. If the ledger line note is above the staff, all you have to do is continue counting the notes in alphabetical order. Because we know that the top line of the staff is A, the next note is automatically B. If we were to continue on, we'd continue on in the alphabet with C, then D and so on. If the note is below the staff, you count in reverse alphabetical order. So since we know that the bottom line of the staff is G, the note directly underneath the staff is F, because F precedes G in the alphabet. If the note extends beyond F, you just keep going backwards through the alphabet.
In real-life examples, the line and space notes are used at the same time. The note reader uses both G, B, D, F, A and A, C, E, G to find the notes to play. See if you can solve the mystery from the beginning of the lesson.
You now know that a staff is a graphical system used to read notes with five lines and four spaces. These lines and spaces house the notes of the musical alphabet - A, B, C, D, E, F and G. The bass clef symbol looks like this and signifies low to medium pitches being read on the staff.
Each line and space is assigned a specific note, with the lines being G, B, D, F, A, and the spaces A, C, E and G, starting from the bottom of the bass clef staff. You also learned that ledger line notes extend the staff. Notes above the staff extend in alphabetical order, and notes below the staff extend in reverse alphabetical order.
After viewing this video, you should be able to:
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Back To CourseMusic 101: Intro to Music
12 chapters | 101 lessons