Music Theory For The Dropouts #2 – The Grand Staff Demystified

Cassi Falk  /  Reading Music / Jul 21

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Reading notes on the grand staff is a little bit intimidating at first.  Take one look at the page and you’ll see there’s a lot of information being thrown at your very quickly.  In your last theory lesson, you learned about counting rhythms: how they feel to hear and play, and what they look like in notation.  

This lesson is about giving you some easy ways to read the pitches of notes on the grand staff.  Once you learn what to look out for on the grand staff, it’ll become much easier to absorb and use the musical information it gives you.  

So first thing’s first.  Each line and space on the grand staff corresponds to to a specific pitch on the keyboard.  If you’ve spent any time at the piano, you’re probably already familiar with Middle C as your home-base note.  On the grand staff, you can find the note right in between the Bass Clef and the Treble Clef.  It’s got a little line through it called a ledger line (more about those in just a minute.)   

From there, you can count up the lines and spaces in the treble clef, and each line and space equals another white key note.  So that means that the white space note directly above Middle C is D, then the first lined note on the staff is E.  From there it counts up the scale, with F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. 

Anything above that and you’re getting into ledger lines.  You can think of ledger lines as a continuation of the grand staff.  A lined note looks just like Middle C, with a line running through the note hanging above the staff.  A space note has the ledger line just below the note, with the note sitting on top.

And what about the Bass Clef?  The bottom staff is dedicated to the lower region of the piano, below Middle C.  The notes count down from Middle C.  So that means that the note sitting above the lines of the Bass Clef is B, and then they count down from there, with A, G, F, E, D, to C an octave below.       

If all of this seems a little overwhelming, don’t worry.  There are some useful tools you can use to help you remember the arrangement of these notes on the staff.  Rather than trying to memorize each note on the staff, you can use some helpful phrases instead.  The phrase ‘Every Good Boy Does Fine’ is commonly used to help memorize the lined notes written on the staff in the right hand.  If you want to memorize the space notes in the right hand, they spell out the word ‘FACE.’

You can use phrases to help memorize the notes in the Bass Clef as well.  If you want to memorize the space notes in the Bass Clef, you can use the phrase ‘All Cows Eat Grass.’  To memorize the lined notes in the Bass Clef, use the phrase ‘Good Boys Deserve Food Always.’

Using phrases like these is key to helping further your understanding of the grand staff.  But you don’t have to use these phrases specifically!  Music is all about self expression, so go ahead and see what unique phrases you can come up with yourself!

Ready for your next lesson? You can learn all about music symbols in Lesson 3 of our series!

Missed Lesson 1? You can find that here.

Jordan Leibel is passionate about songwriting, improvisation, and helping you become a creative musician! He’s worked as a composer for film, commercial, and theatre projects as well as a session musician and producer for recording work.

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