Subscribe to the book

You must register before you can purchase any books.

Contact Us

If you have questions or comments, please contact us

We also have an FAQ

1-3 Pitch Notation

( 38421 Reads)

None Max


To be able to read music, you will need to be familiar with the different terms, symbols, and graphics used for the notation of pitch.


The musical staff consists of five horizontal lines, and the four spaces between those lines. Higher pitches are at the top of the staff, and lower pitches are at the bottom (see Figure 1-1).

Figure 1.1. Staffs and Clefs. A typical staff

A music piece


A clef is a symbol placed on a staff to indicate the names of the pitches for each line and space.

Treble Clef

Also known as the G clef, the treble clef indicates that the second line up from the bottom of the staff is G (see Figure 1-1).

Bass Clef

The F clef, also known as the bass clef, indicates that the second line down from the top of the staff is the F (see Figure 1-1).

Alto Clef

The alto clef is one of the so-called moveable clefs meaning that the indentation of the clef indicates that this pitch is the mid-range C, also known as middle C. For the alto clef, the indentation is placed on the middle line of the clef (see Figure 1-1).

Tenor Clef

The tenor clef is a moveable clef in which the indentation of the clef is placed on the second line down from the top of the staff. That second line pitch is middle C (see Figure 1-1).

Pitch Names

Letters of the alphabet are used to designate particular pitch names. Only A, B, C, D, E, F, and G are used in music notation (see Figure 1-2).

Lines and Spaces

Each line and space has a specific letter name (see Figures 1-2 and 1-3). Of all the material presented in this chapter, learning the lines and spaces on the staff will affect your ability to approach every other topic in this book. It isn't enough to only memorize the information in this chapter. You should also make sure you can work comfortably and quickly with either staff. By mastering the skill of reading notes on the staff quickly and accurately, you will make the study of all topics covered in this book that much easier.

In the treble clef, the spaces from the bottom up are F, A, C, and E, which spell the word face (see Figure 1-2). The lines on the staff from the bottom up are E, G, B, D, and F-an acronym for Every Good Boy Does Fine.

Figure 1.2. The notes of the treble clef. The notes that are present on the treble clef.

A music piece

In the bass clef, the spaces from bottom to top are A, C, E, and G, or All Cars Eat Gas (see Figure 1-3). The lines are G, B, D, F, and A, or Good Boys Do Fine Always.

Figure 1.3. The bass clef. The notes of the bass clef.

A music piece

Grand Staff

Two staves joined together with a brace form a grand staff. The grand staff usually includes two clefs-one treble and one bass-and is normally used to notate keyboard music (see Figure 1-4).

Figure 1.4. The grand staff. The grand staff has a treble and a bass clef.

A music piece

Notes and Rests

Pitches are represented in printed music by notes. Notes are positioned on the lines and spaces of staves to indicate the specific pitches a musician is to play or sing. The circular part of the note, the notehead, must be clearly positioned on the intended line or space.

In contrast, the absence of pitch is represented by several symbols known as rests. The symbols vary according to the length of rest.

The names and functions of these different types of notes and rests will be discussed in Chapter 2, but for now, be aware that the symbols illustrated in Figure 1-5 represent the most commonly found notes and rests.

Figure 1.5. Notes and rests. Different durations of notes and rests

A music piece

Because Figure 1-5 does not include a clef, it is impossible to know which pitches are represented by the notes. As you begin to read and write music, it will be critical that you understand the strong connection between clefs and notes. Without a clef, the note names are unidentifiable.

Ledger Lines

When a composer wants to write a pitch that is above or below the staff, it is necessary to use additional lines. These extra lines are known as ledger lines (see Figure 1-6).

Figure 1.6. Ledger lines. Ledger lines used in music.

A music piece


The organization of pitches is clearly identifiable on the keyboard because of the alternating pattern of black and white keys. The piano is the most common figure of an instrument with a keyboard. Figure 1-7 shows the relationship between the keyboard, letter names, and the treble and bass clefs.

Figure 1.7. A typical keyboard.

A typical keyboard

Middle C

Middle C is the C key nearest the middle of the keyboard. It is the C written on the ledger line between the bass and treble clefs.

Step sizes in music

A half step is the distance between any two adjacent keys on the piano. E-F, B-C, and C-Db are examples of half steps. (see Figure 1-7). A whole step is the distance between is made up of two half steps. C-D, B-C#, and G-A are examples of whole steps (see Figure 1-7).


When the accidental called a sharp is placed in front of a note, it raises the pitch one half step (see Figures 1-8 and 1-9).

Figure 1.8. Sharps, flats and more.

Sharps, flats and more

When the accidental called a flat is placed in front of a note, it lowers the pitch one half step (see Figures 1-8 and 1-9).

When the accidental called a natural is placed in front of a note, it cancels a previously specified sharp or flat (see Figure 1-8).

A double sharp is an accidental that raises a pitch two half steps (see Figure 1-8).

A double flat is an accidental that lowers a pitch two half steps (see Figure 1-8).

Chromatic Scale

The chromatic scale consists of every adjacent pitch on the keyboard. The notation of this scale is shown in Figure 1-9. Sharps are used to notate the scale as it ascends, flats as it descends.

Figure 1.9. The chromatic scale.

The chromatic scale


You may have noticed that even though the notes of the chromatic scale are spelled differently depending on whether the scale is ascending or descending, they are still the same keys on the keyboard. Notes that sound the same but are spelled differently are called enharmonic (see Figure 1-10).

Figure 1.10. Enharmonic notes.

Enharmonic notes

Figure 1-11 shows all the elements we've discussed so far.

Figure 1.11. All the parts together. All the parts of music together in one piece.

A music piece