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Music – Notation 

( a simplistic explanation)

I am no musician and, therefore, the following is a very simplistic explanation of music notation covering staves, clefs and notes.  Obviously this doesn’t even scratch the surface as there is no mention of sharps, flats, rests, keys etc., etc., but it may just throw light on this vast subject and encourage you to investigate further.

Notation is a system of signs by means of which music is written down.  

The signs are arranged on and around five parallel lines which is called a stave/staff.  

stave or staff

There is a sign at the beginning of each stave, known as a clef, which fixes the pitch of notes written on one of the lines of the stave.  

stave or staff with treble and base clefs

The pitch of the other notes is worked out in relation to this fixed line.  

High notes are placed high and low notes are placed low.  

Short extra lines called leger lines are added above or below the stave when the notes are too high or too low to be fitted on the stave.  

leger lines above and below stave or staff

According to the line or space which a note occupies, it is given a letter name.  The letters are ABCDEFG and they are repeated in the same order, higher or lower, as needed.  

The clef fixes the position on the stave of a G in the case of the G clef and of an F in the case of an F clef.  The two most used clefs are G and F, corresponding roughly to the right and left hand music for a pianist.   The different clefs avoid too many notes outside the stave.

The stave is divided into sections, called bars or measures, by bar lines (vertical lines).  Each bar has a fixed number of beats or rhythmic pulses, each of one time value.  

stave or staff with treble clef and divided into bars

This is shown by two numbers, one above the other called a time signature.  The upper number tells us the number of beats in a bar, and the lower number indicates the time value of each beat.  E.g. 4:4 shows there are four quarter (crotchet) beats in each bar that follows.

numbers showing beats in a bar

The shape of each note indicates their time value, i.e. the length of time a note should last in relation to others.

Semibreve (whole note) - written as an open oval shape with no tail/stalk semi breve
Minim (half note) – written as an open oval shape with a tail/stalk minim
Crotchet (quarter note)– written as a solid oval shape with tail/stalk crotchet
Quaver (eighth note) – written as two solid oval shapes with tails joined together by a horizontal line. quaver
Semiquaver (sixteenth note) – written as a solid oval shape with a tail and two horizontal lines. semi quavers
Demisemiquavers (thirty-second note)  – written as a solid oval shape with a tail and three horizontal lines. demisemiquavers

E.g. a semibreve  = 2 minims, 4 crotchets, 8 quavers, 16 semi quavers, 32 demisemiquavers.

I hope this will have whetted your appetite, if so there are many good sites on the internet covering music for the very beginner through to the more accomplished musician.

Below are a few links to get you started -

There is a very comprehensive music dictionary here and also other useful pages and sites:-

Musical Mnemonics and Naming the Scale

Terms used in music and their meanings








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