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When reading music there are a few basic things to learn. The paper used is called manuscript paper. In musical notation music is written on a staff or stave (a system of 5 parallel horizontal lines across the page). Two or more staves may be combined above and below each other when writing for piano, groups of instruments, etc. A collection of staves with musical notation written in this way for 2 or more instruments is called a score.

The Clefs

The clefs (or signs) exist in order to show on which line or space of the stave a specified note pitch is to be placed. (Pitch just means height of the sound, that is: how high or low the note sounds.) The clef will always be shown at the beginning of each stave of musical notation.

 

 

The Treble Clef is a sign that means notes are quite high.
The Treble Clef looks like this:   and started its life centuries ago looking like the letter G with the cross-piece of the G written on the second line up of the stave. This made any note written on the second line up a note pitch of G (just up from middle C on a piano). Over the centuries, hand-written musical notation manuscripts have gradually restyled the G clef into what it is today, but it still coils around the second line up. So, remember that in notation a treble clef is a G clef and you're half-way there!

A quick break before the next clef - go to our easy music pieces page where you can listen to lots of simple but fun, original tunes for you to learn if you are beginning to play a solo musical instrument. Also this site has these easy tunes arranged as duets for piano with a choice of many different solo instruments.

On to our next clef.

The Bass Clef is a sign that means musical notes are quite low.
The Bass Clef looks like this: and started its life centuries ago looking like the letter F with the two cross-pieces of the F written each side of (above and below) the second line down of the stave. This made any note written on the second line down a note pitch of F (just below middle C on a piano). Over the centuries, hand-written manuscripts have gradually restyled the F clef into what it is today, but the two dots still show where the ends of the cross-pieces are - these are the most important parts of the clef that go above and below the second line down. So, remember that a bass clef is an F clef and reading musical notation for the lower register will become much clearer!

There are a few other clefs that are much more rarely used in musical notation (sometimes for certain vocalists and instruments). The most common of these is the type of C Clef (looking like: ) defined as the Alto Clef, which has the line left open between the upper and lower parts of the clef defined as C (middle C on a piano). Music written for the viola commonly uses this clef.

Copyright 2006 Brian Farley, All Rights Reserved.

Author Information:

Brian Farley has been a professional Musical Director and pianist since 1974 and worked worldwide in the top echelons of the entertainment industry. His duet sheet music website "Easy Duets, Sheet Music for Schools, Musical Instrument Students" provides original musical duets and trios for early level students to play together. It also has some good free "reading music notation" information.

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