Music Theory for Producers – Part Five. Today we will learn about staff and clef. This lesson is crucial to understand music notation even if you’re not going to read or write music. The idea is to break it down into small parts so you can see that, although it may seem weird, music notation is simple.
First of all, let’s remember the sequence of musical notes: A-B-C-D-E-F-G
And their location on a piano keyboard:
The staff consists of five horizontal lines where we write musical notes. The lines and also the spaces between them will represent different pitches. The lower a note is, the lower their sound. Similarly, the higher a note is, the higher is their sound. That’s the basic idea.
So, if we compare a staff with a stair, where each line and space would correspond to a step, the stair would be something like this:
But how can we tell which notes are written? That is not possible just with the staff. We will need another music symbol called Clef. The function of a clef is to assign a note to a given line so that we can find the other notes. There are 3 clefs, but the most common is the Treble Clef (also known as G Clef).
The Treble Clef gives us the location of a G note:
In the Treble Clef, the second line from the bottom will always be a G. Notice that a spiral in the clef design is exactly in the second line, as a ‘hint’.
How can we find the other notes using the G in the second line as a reference note?
Let’s use the musical notes sequence and the stair example combined. If G is in the second line, which note would be in the next step of the stair? The next step in the stair will be the second space from the bottom, and it will correspond to the A note (because in the musical alphabet the A comes after the G). The note below the G (in the first space from the bottom) will also be the note that comes before G in the notes sequence – that is, F:
So, all you need to do is to go forward and backward through the musical alphabet following the sequence of lines and spaces.
If we need to write notes above or below the staff we add Ledger Lines – small lines located above or below the staff, that will extend the range of it:
By the way, middle C is the first ledger line below the staff:
It means that each note will have an exact location in the staff. The G from the second line is not any G, but the G that comes after the middle C.
Now, can you read the example below?
The example shows just C and D notes, but with different duration. Remember the previous lessons about note duration?
The example also shows vertical lines in the staff. Those are called bar lines, and they are used to delimitate spaces called measures. So, the above example shows a staff with 4 measures.
The first measure shows that we have to play a middle C for 4 beats (whole note), the second one shows a D which also lasts 4 beats. The third measure shows a sequence of four 4th notes (C-D-C-D), and finally, the last measure shows two half notes: a D and a middle C. Try playing it on the keyboard, starting in a slow tempo, counting aloud the beats. After practicing for a while, the exercise will be something like this:
That’s it! Reading music is not a difficult task if you go little by little and make it a constant practice.