Music Theory – 0001

When learning to write words, it is necessary to first learn the alphabet. You probably first learned the alphabet song (the melody to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star), and you learned to recognize each letter one at a time and then proceeded on to simple words. The tendency is to first learn to read and then to write. As quickly as possible I am going to have you both learning to read and write at the same time, but first we must learn the basics of the language.

The musical alphabet is comprised of seven letters:

A – B – C – D – E – F – G

It would be useful if you could be able to say those letters forward and backward fluidly and without effort. After the G above the letters start over again:

A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A – etc.

It would really be great if you could say them forward and backward from any letter to that same letter. Let’s do that starting with C.

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

C – B – A – G – F – E – D – C

These are things you can go over mentally and verbally while away from the computer and music keyboard. Today I will introduce you to the grand staff.

I’m going to make up some history. Maybe this is true and maybe not, but it is useful to look at it this way. Imagine that at first music was written on one staff of eleven lines:


It would be pretty hard to know just by glancing which line or space a particular note was placed on, especially if it were near the middle. That’s a big problem. The center line is called Middle C.

If we shorten that middle line then instead of eleven we have five top lines and five bottom lines with the shortened line still being Middle C.


Now if you look at the top five lines it would be much easier to see if something was on the center line or one space above or below it, and the same goes for the bottom five lines. The extra little line below the top five lines is Middle C. The extra little line above the bottom five lines is that same Middle C. That will become clearer in the following two pictures where we pull those groups of five lines apart. First the top five lines:

TrebleCleffOn the right is the top five lines with a funny looking symbol called a Treble Clef on the left. That clef lets you know those are the five lines above Middle C. The four over four is the Time Signature, something we will cover more another time. The top “4” is how many beats there are to each measure, and the bottom “4” is what kind of note gets a beat, in this case a quarter note. We’re getting ahead of ourselves here; it won’t be on the test — yet. The note on the bottom right of the picture is Middle C.

BassClefOn the left is the bottom five lines below Middle C. The weird symbol is called the Bass Clef and again we have the four over four meaning the same thing it did in the Treble Clef. Notice that Middle C, the exact same Middle C, is one ledger line above the Bass Clef this time.

And now for the moment all this has been building toward. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Grand Staff in all its glory:


As you look above on the far left is a curly brace. That means those two staves go together for one person to play. You can see the Treble Clef in the upper left and the Bass Clef in the lower left. In the first measure there are the notes C – D – E – F, and in the second measure are the notes C – B – A – G. Each consecutive line and space is the next note letter-name; as you go up you go forward in the alphabet, as you go down you go backward.

What is extremely important to make note of in the picture above is that both C notes are the exact same key on the piano, the same pitch. That middle line of the original eleven-line staff is pulled next to the staff it is most convenient to write on at the moment.

I have a student coming soon so I have to go and get ready. Next time I will show you how to find all the C notes on the Grand Staff and use them as reference points to figure out what other notes are on the staff. That will help you get up to speed more quickly.

2 thoughts on “Music Theory – 0001

  1. Don’t get pulled over for drunk driving then, saying the alphabet backwards from Z will really blow your mind. First get down G-F-E-D-C-B-A and only that. I can do every other letter front and back which is useful for chords. A-C-E-G-B-D-F-A; really, forwards on that serves pretty well. Saying the letters consecutively front and back helps you determine which note is which, particularly if a lot of ledger lines are stacked up.

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