Learn How To Read Sheet Music Notation, Symbols, Staff Clef Ledger

In this lesson, we will study about different types of music notation symbols including staff, bass clef, treble clef, musical notes, and ledger lines.

Before starting the lesson, let’s define music notation system.

Music Notation Symbols

How to read sheet music?

Understanding how to read music starts with learning the basic symbols used in western music notation.

What is Music Notation?

Music notation is defined as a system for visually representing elements of music with symbols, dynamics, and articulations that can be interpreted by musicians to read or write musical compositions.

I believe, math is not music, but music is math!

Understanding the music notation is nothing less than knowing mathematical principles.

Mathematicians can use various numerals, signs, symbols, and formulas to solve mathematical problems. Similarly, musicians use various symbols and signs each having a specific reading instruction.

What is standard music notation?

Standard music notation is the widely accepted notation system used to visually represent music through the use of visual symbols that are written or printed on staff paper.

Here are basic symbols used in music.

Music Notation Symbols

Basic Music Notation Symbols
Basic Music Notation Symbols

Standard music notation is also commonly known as staff notation.

What is staff?

The staff or stave is a set of five horizontal lines that create four spaces between them, each representing different musical frequency or pitch.

The lines and space represent a natural note each. They can be anything from C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. The clef symbols are used to assign specific note names to these lines and spaces.

What is a natural note?

Natural notes are musical tones produced by all the white keys on the piano keyboard.
All the black keys represent either a sharp note or a flat note.

The sharp and flat notes are drawn using accidental symbols. We shall learn the concept of accidentals in our next lesson.

Let’s move back to staff paper.

What is clef?

Clef is the music notation symbol used to assign notes to certain lines on the staff.

Treble clef and bass clef are the basic symbols you may see on the standard sheet music for a guitar or a piano.

What is treble clef?

The treble clef is a music symbol that has an intersection point known as note G placed on the second line from the bottom of the staff.

Therefore, the treble clef is also known as G clef.

Based on this information, we can name other notes on the staff paper as shown in the illustration.

The best way to remember the arrangement of lines is to remember the phrase – Every Good Boy Deserves Football.
Remembering the notes between spaces is quite simple – just remember the word – FACE.

Is this arrangement same for the bass clef?


What is bass clef?

The bass clef is a music notation symbol that accommodates the note F in between the two dots of the symbol.

Therefore, the bass clef is also known as F clef. It is usually required for reading music written for a piano.

We can name other notes on the bass clef as shown in the illustration.

The best way to remember the arrangement of lines is to remember the phrase – Grizzly Bears Don’t Fly Airplanes.
Remembering the notes between spaces is quite simple – just remember the word – ACEG as All Cows Eat Grass.
You may not need the bass clef for playing guitar pieces.

However, here are the notes for each line and spaces on a bass clef.

Grand Staff & Ledger Lines
Grand Staff & Ledger Lines

What is a grand staff?

A grand staff is a set of 11 horizontal lines that create two different staves consisting five lines each.

The middle line is represented by the “Middle C” key of the piano – joins the treble clef and the bass clef.

A grand staff is generally used for piano music.
A music piece for guitar can be comfortably written using only the treble clef.

What are ledger lines?

Ledger lines are the extra line that can be used to denote the higher pitched or lower pitched notes that cannot be placed on the five lines of the regular staff.

The illustration shows available notes on the staff.
If we need to add higher or lower notes to the composition, we can simply keep adding the extra lines above or below the staff.

For example, you can see the note F on a treble clef’s topmost line.

Let us place the note G, the next note in the series that may not need a ledger line.

However, to place the next note in the series just add one extra line to the treble clef.

As we move higher, the pitch of the notes increases gradually based on the pattern called chromatic scale.

Now the question is:
Is there any mathematical formula that defines the series of notes?

Thanks for reading my 73rd article in the series 100-day music blogging challenge. Stay tuned for more music theory lessons.

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Published by Bharat

Hi, I'm Bharat. An artist, blogger, musician and digital marketing professional dedicated to sharing musing and stories about music, art and mindful resonance! Follow me @bharatpc