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The Staff

Module by: Catherine Schmidt-Jones. E-mail the author

Summary: (Blank Abstract)

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People were talking long before they invented writing. People were also making music long before anyone wrote any music down. But written music is very useful, for many of the same reasons that written words are useful. If you can read music, you don't have to hear a piece of music in order to learn it, and you don't have to memorize it to be able to play it again. The composer or arranger of the music can share it with many musicians just by writing it down.

The Staff

The most common way to write music is to put notes and rests on a staff. The staff (plural staves) is written as five horizontal parallel lines. Most of the notes of the music are placed on one of these lines or in a space in between lines. Extra ledger lines may be added to show a note that is too high or too low to be on the staff. Vertical bar lines divide the staff into short sections called measures or bars. A double bar line, either heavy or light, is used to mark the ends of larger sections of music, including the very end of a piece, which is marked by a heavy double bar.

Figure 1: The staff is divided into sections called bars or measures. The most important symbols on the staff, the clef symbol, key signature and time signature, appear at the beginning of the staff.
The Staff
The Staff (12a.gif)

Many different kinds of symbols can appear on, above, and below the staff. The notes and rests are the actual written music. Other symbols on the staff, like the clef symbol, the key signature, and the time signature, tell you important information about the notes and measures. Symbols that appear above and below the music may tell you how fast it goes (tempo markings), how loud it should be (dynamic markings), and even give directions for how to perform particular notes (accents, for example).

Figure 2: The notes and rests are the music. Many other symbols may appear on, above, or below the staff, giving directions for how to play the music.
Symbols around the Staff
Symbols around the Staff (12b.gif)

A note stands for a sound; a rest stands for a silence. There are many other symbols on and around the staff that give directions for playing the music; the most important of these symbols give the clef, the key signature, and the time signature. But it is the notes and rests that are the written music.

Groups of staves

Staves are read from left to right. Beginning at the top of the page, they are read one staff at a time unless they are connected. If staves should be played at the same time (by the same person or by different people), they will be connected at least by a long vertical line at the left hand side. They may also be connected by their bar lines. Staves played by similar instruments or voices, or staves that should be played by the same person (for example, the right hand and left hand of a piano part) may be grouped together by braces at the beginning of each line.

Figure 3
Groups of Staves
(a)
Figure 3(a) (12csubfig1.gif)
(b)
Figure 3(b) (12csubfig2.gif)

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