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How to Read Notes on the Treble Clef Staff

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  • 0:07 The Staff
  • 1:02 The Musical Alphabet
  • 1:21 The Treble Clef Staff
  • 1:56 Lines of the Staff
  • 4:17 Spaces of the Staff
  • 5:47 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 treble clef staff? What types of instruments play notes that are read in the treble clef staff? Who invented the notation system? Find out in this lesson!

The Staff

Quick! Remember these letters in order: E, E, F, G, G, F, E, D, C, C, D, E, E, D, D. Can you please repeat that back? No? Well, you must be normal then. Just as you don't need to memorize every item you have on your grocery list or every word of an essay, musicians don't need to memorize every note they play. Instead, they use a staff, which is a graphical system used to read and write notes.

Ancient Music Notation

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

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 Treble 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 treble clef staff, which looks like this.

The treble clef staff looks like this
Treble Clef Staff

This curly symbol specifies a set of medium to high pitches. Music written on this staff is for instruments that play medium and high pitches, such as violins, flutes, trumpets and the upper range of the piano.

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. You can think of it like a mountain. If our friend Billy the note goat is at the bottom of the mountain, we would say he's at a low altitude. On the staff, these are the lower notes. As Billy climbs the mountain, he reaches higher and higher altitudes. On the staff, we can see he is reaching higher and higher pitches as he climbs. Each line of the staff represents a specific pitch.

Starting from the bottom of the treble clef staff, the lines represent E, G, B, D and F. The treble clef is sometimes called the 'G clef,' because the treble clef symbol circles around the line G. The letters always remain in this order, which makes it easy to use. So, when a note is placed on the bottom line, the musician knows to play or sing the pitch E. If the note is on a higher line, you can simply count which line it is, then find the corresponding letter. So, if your note is on the fourth line, you can simply count over four letters in the sequence. In this case, the note is D, because D is the fourth letter in the sequence.

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

A great way to remember the names of the lines is to use a mnemonic device. You may have heard ones like Every Good Boy Does Fine, or Elvis's Guitar Broke Down Friday or even Everyone Gets Balloons During Fiestas. The best way is to make your own memorable sentence. If the note goat helped you, you can use Elevate, Goat, But Don't Fall! Let's look at another example. Which note is this? Just count the lines, then count the letters in sequence.

What note is this?
B Note

If you said B, 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?
Example Notes

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

How about these?
More Example Notes

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

Spaces of the Staff

Let's move on to the space notes. Between the five lines there are four spaces. Like the lines, each space represents a specific pitch. The lower the space is, the lower the pitch. The higher the space is, the higher the pitch. Fortunately, the spaces are easy to remember because when starting from the bottom of the treble clef staff, the spaces spell the word 'FACE'.

So, when a note is placed on the bottom space, the musician knows to play or sing the pitch F. If the note is on a higher space, you can follow the same counting procedure as you did for the lines. 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 C, because C is the third letter in the sequence.

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

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

What note is this?
A Note

If you chose A, you're right!

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

Which notes are these?
Example Notes

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

How about these?
More Example Notes

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

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