The Musical Staff


The musical staff is a visual notation tool that allows music to be written onto paper.  Or the computer screen, in our case! We will be concentrating on the treble clef staff in this lesson which is the one that guitar music is written on. The treble staff has 5 horizontal lines with four spaces between each line. Each line and space is a musical note. There is no difference between a line and a space. Each increment from line to space, or space to line, indicates a move from one note to the other. That probably sounds confusing so let’s try to break it down and make it easier to understand!

the musical staff

Frequency Makes Pitch

In music we refer to the frequency (how many times the molecules vibrate per second) a note vibrates at as the pitch of the note.  The “A” note above middle “C” resonates at a frequency of 440Hz.  This A note is a standard for tuning instruments as other instruments that are tuned to A-440 can play along with the guitar, making music that sounds pleasing to the ear.

The Treble Clef


The treble clef is indicated by having this symbol in the left hand side of the notation.

In most contemporary sheet music you will see the music will be written on the treble clef staff. The piano and bass guitar are also able to play notes from the bass clef staff but we will not be studying it in this course. However, you should brush up on it because you can use it to write music for the bass guitar. The bass guitar is an instrument that commonly accompanies the guitar.

Up and Down

As the notes are written closer to the top of these clefs there pitch increases giving them a higher, lighter sound. Conversely, as notes are written closer to the bottom of the clefs the pitch decreases giving them a lower, darker sound. The treble clef contains notes that are higher in pitch than the bass clef and the bass clef contains notes that are lower in pitch than the treble clef. For this reason for some instruments that have a wide range of notes, the piano in particular, you may see these two staffs combined. The following diagram of a piano showing the note placements on the two staffs of music may help you understand how sheet music and music notation works.

the musical staff on the piano

The Flats!

So far, I have only showed you the natural notes of the key of C. If you want to play a black key on a piano, it is noted using a # for sharp or a b for a flat.

the flats on the musical staff

The Musical Staff!

I hope this lesson on the musical staff has helped you to understand the basics of how guitar music is written.  For homework, please read the Wikipedia article on the Staff. In future lessons, we will be getting way more detailed into the musical staff so make sure and check back on How To: Guitar regularly.

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