Lesson 2: The Musical Staff
By Debbie Ridpath Ohi - 06/04/2007 - 10:49 AM EDT
my first column, I discussed some of the basic rhythm symbols: the
whole note, half note, and quarter note. In this second column,
I'm going to cover the musical staff.
are different types of music staffs (or "staves"), but we're going
to focus on the most commonly used type of staff that you'll see
as a songwriter, and that has five lines:
vocal line can usually be transcribed using just one staff. Piano
music requires two staffs. A jazz band arrangement will require
more. For now, let's just concentrate on one. :-)
a staff for?
staff is used to notate pitch.
but what's "pitch"?
is used to refer to the "lowness" or "highness" of a sound, particularly
when you're talking about musical sound. The sound that a flute makes
is generally higher in pitch than the sound a tuba makes.
how can a musical staff show pitch?
higher a note is placed on a staff, the higher the pitch. In the
following example, the first note is lower in pitch than the second
note. (And of course, from the knowledge you gleaned in our first lesson,
you probably immediately recognize the notes in the following example
as whole notes. :-):
how do I know what these -sound- like?
that, of course, is the real trick. It would be handy to be able
to hum a tune and then transcribe it using standard musical notation
(what you're learning now). That way, you'll never forget it...and
will thus avoid the common songwriter's agony of coming with a great
musical hook or melody, but then forgetting it. Better yet, other
musicians will be able to look at your musical notation and be able
to play your song.
be able to identify the exact pitches, you'll need an extra piece
of information, one that identifies the type of musical staff
symbol to the left is called the treble clef. By placing it
on a staff, you're identifying that staff with treble cleff. This
is one of most commonly used staffs in music, and is used for most
instruments as well as for music that the right hand plays on the
piano. If you were taking piano lessons, this would be the staff you
would be learning first.
treble clef is also called the G Clef because the curly bit
in the middle wraps around the staff line also known the G line
(the second line from the bottom). If you play or sing a note on
the G line, it will sound as concert G.
lesson: Notes on the treble cleff staff.
readers are already starting to send me questions. Unfortunately
I don't have time to answer these by private e-mail, but will answer
one or two at a time at the end of each column.
I am a new songwriter. I have been a lyricist, and hear those
melodies in my head. And so I have been attempting to compose
the music. I have taken a music theory course, to properly compose
music. Yet it ends up getting so complicated, and incomprehensible!!
Rhythm, starts off simply, as you have taught. Then it gets into,
dotted notes, one quarter note equals 2 eighth notes, eighth notes
into l6th notes, etc. And then I'm confused!! And so I write my
music in the basic notations of quarter, half, whole. I've looked
at music compostitions of way back, and these musicians did not
seem to always use complex notatation. I have studied ear training,
where you say what note was played, and I was always wrong. It
would sound, like maybe a whole note to me, and it would be, a
dotted half, and an eight rest!
I've come to the conclusion, that music composition, will never
be one of my talents. If I study it more, will I get better at
it? Or, is okay to use the basic notation, as I have been doing?
Any additional advice, for a musical dummy??? Thanks, for your
the musical transcriptions are just for yourself, use whatever notation
works for you. Using simpler notation (e.g. just straight quarter
notes, half notes, etc.) to mark down the basic pitches is fine,
as long as you remember any variations in your head, or by recording
it on tape. I do something similar while songwriting...I like to
get the simple notation down to help me remember the basic melody,
and don't worry about the exact rhythm. Later on, I finetune the
rhythm notation if necessary (adding those dotted eighths and so
the purpose of your musical notation is so someone else can reproduce
your music, however, you need to be more exact. In that case, don't
try to pressure yourself to learn everything at once...it can definitely
be confusing, especially when you're working with syncopated and
rhythms that go behind the basic "Mary Had A Little Lamb" example.
yes, the more you study it, the better you'll get at it. The fastest
way to learn is to get a private music theory tutor. Other options
include buying a music theory book and going through all the exercises.
Or, of course, following my course. :-)
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