3 Staff and clefs

Pitch is written on a group of five lines (with four spaces between) called a staff.


The higher a note is placed on the staff, the higher the pitch is. If you consider the pitches necessary to notate for various instruments/voices, you realize that five lines and four spaces would be inadequate for the wide range of pitches. Clefs are used to deal with this problem. When the treble clef is used, the notes represented on the staff are relatively high pitches; when the bass clef is used, relatively low pitches are represented by the lines and spaces. Music written for instruments such as the flute or violin is typically in the treble clef, while music for the tuba or string bass is in the bass clef. The treble clef is sometimes called a “G” clef because its lower spiral wraps around the note G. The bass clef is sometimes called an “F” clef because the two dots are located on either side of the note F.


Reading from the bottom to the top, some people find the the following memory aids helpful:

Treble clef lines:  Every Good Boy Does Fine


Treble clef spaces:  F A C E


Bass clef lines:  Good Boys Do Fine Always


Bass clef spaces:  All Cows Eat Grass


grand staff

The grand staff (or great staff) combines both the treble and bass clefs. In a grand staff, the two staffs are joined by a vertical line and by a bracket or brace. In all, the grand staff has 11 lines–five for the treble clef, five for the bass clef, and an imaginary line that is located between them which is middle C.


grand staff lines and spaces

  Treble, bass and grand staff pitch names

  Octave registers (e.g., C4 is the same as “middle” C)


Octave Register Video


It is important that you can quickly identify the names of the pitches in each clef. Mastery of this skill will facilitate the comprehension of the remainder of this course and should not be underestimated.
Online Drills:

Note Identification (musictheory.net)

MTSB: Lesson 1, Practice treble and bass clefs

 Note-able: Clefs
This is a link to a (printable) reference sheet that has all the names of the notes in each of the clefs described above plus the C clefs that will be introduced as the next topic.