Understanding 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 of five lines each that are connected by a brace on the left side, like you see here:
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 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, and it tells your left hand what to do on the piano.
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 located at the bottom of either staff. The lines on the bass staff from the 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, the lines of the treble staff represent the notes E-G-B-D-F, and are 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.
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 staff 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, like you see here:
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 number of beats seen here, assuming that the quarter note is counted as one beat, which we will discuss shortly:
Musicians don't play every second of every piece. Sometimes they rest, so not surprisingly, these times when they don't play are marked with a symbol called a rest. Rests correspond to the notes already discussed and are labeled the quarter rest, half rest, whole rest, eighth rest, and sixteenth rest, as we see here.
The Grand Staff is used for piano music, and when the barlines are drawn vertically to break the staves up into measures of a certain length, the lines are drawn through both staves and the space in between them. When two staves are put together for vocal music that has lyrics, the barlines are only drawn on the staves themselves and not the space in between.
Now that we know the lines of the staves and have divided the staves into measures, we have to know how many beats are in each measure and what type of note is counted as one beat. This is what the time signature tells us. The top number of the time signature tells us how many beats are in one measure, and the bottom of the time signature tells us what type of note is going to be counted as one beat. Here are some common examples:
The Grand Staff is used for piano music and has two staves of five lines that are connected on the left with a brace. The barlines are drawn through both staves and the space in between them. The top staff uses a treble clef, or G clef, and the bottom staff uses the bass clef, or F clef. The time signatures tell us how many beats are in each measure, and what type of note is counted as one beat. The notes on the staff tell us not only what pitches to play, but also how long to play them.