The names of notes on a staff depend on which music clef is at the start of the staff. In the past there have been many different clefs used, but we will focus on the main clefs in use today. If you are interested in reading more about musical clefs Click here to read about the history, use and development of the clef.
The primary aim of a music clef is to establish the pitch of a particular line. There are 3 main pitch clefs in use.
The G style clef
The F style clef
The C style clef
There are also clefs for unpitched percussion instruments and a clef to indicate tablature. See below for examples of these two clefs.
The G Clef is so called because it establishes the pitch of G above middle C on the staff. Whatever line the G clef is curled around is G above middle C.
The G Clef in use today curls around the 2nd line of the staff, showing the pitch G to be the note on the second line. We also know this as the Treble Clef.
Click here to learn more about the notes on the treble staff
The F Clef is so called because it establishes the pitch of F below middle C on the stave. Whatever line the two dots of the F clef are either side of is F below middle C.
The F Clef in regular use today has the dots either side of the 4th line of the staff, showing the pitch F to be the note on the fourth line. We also know this as the Bass Clef.
The C Clef is so called because the the C clef establishes pitch
of middle C on the line bisecting the clef. The two C Clefs in use today
are the Alto Clef and the Tenor Clef
The Alto Clef has the 3rd line bisecting the clef, showing the third line to be Middle C.
The Tenor Clef has the 4th line bisecting the clef, showing the fourth line to be Middle C.
Guitar, and in the past lute, music is often written in TAB, short for
Tablature. The Tab clef looks like this.. For more information on
tablature please check back soon for the Essential Music Theory guide to
The percussion clefs show different instruments on different lines of the stave. These may be different unpitched percussion instruments, or different drums in a drum kit. The unpitched percussion clefs look like those below.
For more help check out my new theory book Essential Music Theory: Learn To Read And Appreciate Music Vol. 1 available for iPad and Mac OS. The beauty of this book is that it doesn't just contain enless written examples. It contains audio and video files that support the theory, so you can actually hear musical examples that help you understand the concepts. Volume 1 is for complete beginners and teaches you to read music from scratch through ABRSM Grade 1 and Grade 2 theory. Volumes 2 and 3 coming soon! Click here for more information.
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