The Music Staff

The music staff (or music stave as it is also called) is the series of 5 lines and 4 spaces that music is written down on. Music notation developed from one single line, used in the early days of writing down church chants. The first person to come up with the idea of writing music down on a line was Guido of Arezzo who was a Benedictine monk and singing teacher who became famous across North Italy for the speed at which he managed to teach students to sing chants. He also invented the doh-re-me system, although it was called ut-re-me when he first developed it. If you are interested in reading more about the history and development of writing music down click here to read an article on the history of musical notation on Wikipedia and watch Howard Goodall's TV series Big Bangs which is a great introduciton into the 'Big Bangs' that changed the course of music history. It is very accessible and entertaining to watch, while at the same time being extremely informative. Highly recommended! Big Bangs is available on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk as movies and books or from the iBook store

The terms music staff and music stave are interchangeable. Staff tends to be the American usage and Stave tends to be the British usage. I shall use staff on this site.

Here is a picture of the staff showing the lines and spaces

the staff or stave

Position of the notes on the music staff

The position of notes on the lines or in the spaces determines the pitch of the note. Pitch is how high or low a note is. The scientific word for what musicians call pitch is frequency. The higher the note on the staff, the higher the pitch of the sound.

notes get higher on the music staff


notes get lower on the music staff


It doesn't matter which clef is used, this rule is always the same.
If the notes are higher on the staff, they are higher in pitch. If the notes are lower on the staff, they are lower in pitch.

Notes can be on a line or in a space. When a note is on a line the staff line runs through the middle of the note. When a note is in a space it sits between the staff lines. In both of the examples above the first and last notes are on lines, the middle notes are in spaces.

When two staves are joined together the Grand Staff is made. I will use the Grand Staff as a teaching tool on this site. You may think you only need to learn the Treble (G) or Bass (F) clef for your particular instrument, but you will learn much faster and have a more complete knowledge of music theory if you learn to read music using the Grand Staff. Click here to learn about the Grand Staff and start learning how to read the notes!


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