Music Theory Fun, part 1: The Grand Staff

It’s wonderful being able to compose your own music or to play and sing familiar songs written by other people. Having composed music since at least the age of seven myself, I thoroughly enjoy crafting and shaping a new piece, nurturing it slowly into life on the piano keys. I also enjoy playing and singing other people’s music by ear, most often by listening to it many times from a CD or digital recording.

But what about writing all your self-created music down, or recreating others’ music from reading it off a page? That’s where music notation comes in, and where you have to make use of something called the grand staff.

The Grand Staff

Image Credit: I used this image as the basis for my example images in this post. (Thank you Photoshop for having a “music note” graphic!)

This is one of the more familiar forms of music notation, using this system of lines and the spaces between the lines.

The curvy thing that looks like an “&” is called the treble clef, and it marks where all the notes that are above Middle C should be notated.

The curvy thing with what looks like a “:” out to the side is called the bass clef, and it marks where all the notes that are below Middle C should be notated.

Together, the treble clef group of lines and the bass clef group of lines form the grand staff, joined together by that big curly brace on the left side of the above image. Using the grand staff, you can write notations for any kind of vocal, instrumental, or piano piece.

Which Notes Go Where?

In this notation system, every line and space represents a note on the keyboard. The following graphic shows which notes go in the spaces, which notes go in the lines, and then which notes fall between the treble and bass clefs’ lines.

From this diagram, you can see that the bottom space on the treble clef is where you would write an F above middle C, and the bottom line is where you would write an E above middle C, and so on. In the bass clef, the top line is where you would write an A below middle C, and the top space is where you would write a G below middle C, and so on.

To remember which notes go in the lines and spaces, here are the acronyms and memory sentences my music teachers taught me:

  • F A C E = The spaces in the treble clef, bottom to top
  • Every Good Boy Does Fine (EGBDF) = The lines in the treble clef, bottom to top
  • All Cows Eat Grass (ACEG) = The spaces in the bass clef, bottom to top
  • Great Big Dogs Fight Always (GBDFA) = The lines in the bass clef, bottom to top

In between the treble clef’s lines and the bass clef’s lines, you have more room for notation. There’s D above middle C, which hangs below the bottom line in the treble clef, and B below middle C, which sits above the top line in the bass clef…and lastly, Middle C. (I noted Middle C twice in this graphic because it can be written as part of the bass clef or treble clef–it’s kind of like the number 0, sitting in between the positive integers and negative integers in math.)

Identifying Notes in Sheet Music: A Little Self-Quiz

Using the identification chart in the last section, you can start picking out which notes are which, like in the example below:

What are the four notes in this sample? Click the picture to check your answers! (answers will appear in a new window)

Next Week: How Long Do You Hold These Notes?

Next time, we’ll be looking at note time values, also known as “hold this note for one beat, hold this one for four beats,” etc. This is where the rhythm part of music notation comes into play! 🙂

One thought on “Music Theory Fun, part 1: The Grand Staff”

  1. Yes, I was very happy to see someone who challenged the notion of the grand staff….being overly complicated
    I am an adult 68 yrs old and give myself headaches trying to learn Scott Joplin rags in their original keys,,,,,due to this brain fu** of the bass clef being written different than the treble clef….I love the 1st instance of putting A,B.and C between the Grand (Fu** ) Staff….I have a severe learning dis ability when things are presented poorly and require decoding…especially left and right handed things. My mother and father both read and played well, my father the bagpipes my mother concert classical piano…she learned very young.
    Do I need to re invent your wheel idea….making the two staves equal note/line etc or has someone taken this amazing idea of yours/others? and started publishing great piano music using your super cool ideas.
    being an older adult I know complicates my learning disability even more….but I wanna bust on thru, using your ideas…..I learned many of these beautiful Scott Joplin rags by ear in the keys of C and G ….big fat stride bass and all!! but sheez Louise….could we collaborate.
    Much love to you and yours,Marty Schreiber
    Grandpa, Father Husband ..honkey tonk piano player and surfer…hardcore.

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