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Staff notation – an introduction to musical notation


an exasperating topic among musicians as they learn!

"You have to start with this of all things," you will say! But to understand the theoretical principles of music and to communicate between one another, we need precisely such a form of notation. Similar to our ordinary everyday writing, music is also a language. Some people have to get by with speech alone – and don't use the written word.

These people are illiterate.

Of course you don't have to be able to read to speak. And it is exactly the same with music – you don't have to be able to read notes to play music. But just as with writing, many things are much easier if you can also read and write music.

So ..., anyone that looks into the topic of music in more detail or who wants to play in bands, where notes are required (e.g. in big band music), sooner or later will have to get to grips with musical notation.

And that brings us to the topic in question!

Okay, so there is a musical notation system, which consists of notes and symbols, extended with the usual letters and numbers from ordinary writing.

These symbols are written in a system with 5 lines, our staff notation system, also known as the "5-line system".

Here is an example:

Notes all over the place - a nasty example ;-)

Stooooop!!! Don't just click away just yet ...

You didn't learn to read in one day either, did you? At the end of the day it is a complicated example, which requires some practice to understand.

Back in school you also had to learn the individual letters of the alphabet first!

So let's start right at the very beginning:

The notes are written as circles. Well, slight ovals to be more precise actually. Where required these circles are filled out, with necks (vertical strokes) and flags or beams. You will find more details on this in the rhythm lesson. For the moment we'll settle for presentation of the notes as whole notes (open circle), half notes(open circle with neck) and quarter notes (filled circle with neck).

The notes are entered on or between the lines and as such set the tone pitch.


Example of a low, a medium-high and a high pitch

To know exactly what note it is we must allocate fixed values to the lines and the intervals. We do this with the clef. As there are so many different instruments, some sound high, some low, and there are high and low voices, we use different clefs so we don't have to read something like:

Reeeally high and reeeally low notes with lots of ledger lines

The most used clef is the treble clef. It encompasses the second line from the bottom, the G line, with its belly. It is specified that the notes on this line will represent a G, which is why we also call it the "G clef".

Treble clef and G note on the G line

There are some other clefs, the most important of which is the base clef, or "F clef". It is, as the name indicates, used by preference for lower-sounding instruments. The two points of the base clef encompass the F line, the second line from the top. It is specified again that the notes on this line will represent an F.

 Base clef and F note on the F line

We now have put together enough information to read our first notes:

C major scale in treble clef 

C major scale in base clef

As you can see, notes are shown above or below the 5 lines with ledger lines. This is a short line only at the point at which the note is written, at the same distance as the solid line. If higher or lower notes are written, additional lines are added (as above in the worst case). But it will never really gets that crazy ;-)

So now just lean back and relax.
That's the first part over with.

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