Musical staff

In musical notation, the staff or stave is a set of five horizontal lines on which note symbols are placed to indicate pitch and rhythm. The lines are numbered from bottom to top; the bottom line is the first line and the top line is the fifth line.

The musical staff can be thought of as a graph of pitch with respect to time; pitches are roughly given by their vertical position on the staff, and notes on the left are played before notes to their right. In both cases, however, the notations are not exactly proportional but are encoded by symbols.

Music on the staff is read from left to right: one note to the right of another means that it is to be played later; how much later depends on its note value and the tempo. A time signature groups notes on the staff into measures.

Missing image
Staff, with staff positions indicated

Staff positions. The vertical position of the notehead on the staff indicates which note is to be played: notes that are higher in pitch are marked higher up on the staff. The notehead can be placed with the center of its notehead intersecting a line (on a line), or in between the lines touching the lines above and below (in a space). Notes which fall outside the range of the staff are placed on or between leger lines (British ledger lines), lines the width of the note they need to hold, added above or below the staff.

Exactly which notes are represented by which staff positions is determined by a clef placed at the beginning of the staff; the clef identifies a particular line as a specific note, and all other notes are determined relative to that line. For example, the treble clef puts the G above middle C on the second line. The interval between adjacent staff positions is one step in the diatonic scale. Once fixed by a clef, the notes represented by the positions on the staff can be modified by the key signature, or by accidentals on individual notes. A clefless staff may be used to represent a set of percussion sounds; each line typically represents a different instrument.

When two staves joined by a brace are intended to be played by a single instrument, a grand staff (British - great stave)is created. Typically, the upper staff has a treble clef and the lower staff has a bass clef. In this case, middle C is between the two staves, and it can be written on the first leger line below the upper staff or the first leger line above the lower staff. When playing the piano, the upper staff is normally played with the right hand and the lower staff with the left hand. In music intended for the organ, a grand staff includes three staves, one for each hand and one for the feet.


The following is a grand staff (to be played by, for example, a piano). Each staff has seven notes and one rest.

A simple grand staff

Here is an example image with some typical music notation.

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Typical music notation. See the image page for an explanation of the symbols.

Staves with more or less than five lines

The first staves had only four lines, used in neumatic notation for Gregorian chant, starting in the 10th century. Guido d'Arezzo may have invented the staff.

Lute tablature, prevalent in the 16th century, often used a six-line staff; other notation for guitar and lute also sometimes used six-line staves.

Music education books for beginners (including Orff Schulwerk) sometimes use as few as one or two lines, not to specify exact pitches but only pitch relationships.

External Links

Template:Musical notation

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