Music Notation 

Introduction: There are four main properties of sound: pitch, intensity, duration, and timbre. We use music notation to represent these four properties on paper. It’s how we write our music down. Some folks turn their noses up at notation while declaring it unnecessary. But I’m here to tell you otherwise.

Whatever you create musically dies with you if not written down. “What about recordings?” you may be asking. The recordings are wonderful, but they do not provide detailed instructions on what is to be played and how it is to be played. The staff evolved over time to help us with this writing down process along with the creative process as well. The staff has been around a very long time!

It has evolved into the most useful visual tool in music. With the staff, it is possible to visualize musical concepts and ideas in a straightforward manner. The staff is not just for guitarists, it is for all musicians! It can be used for every instrument in modern orchestra and pop music. 

Music notation is very different from the written language that we all use every day. It is actually a bit more precise and complex than normal written language. But don’t let that scare you away! Even though it is a complex thing, it’s not as complicated in practice as you might think.

To write music, we use symbols to represent four important properties of sound that I mentioned at the beginning. Those properties are pitch, duration, intensity, and timbre. Pitch and duration are represented simultaneously on a music staff. Meanwhile, there are a number of symbols we use to represent or describe the intensity of our sounds. Timbre can be described as the tone quality or color of a sound.

Getting Started

The first thing we would consider writing would be the pitch. Pitch can be described as the highness or lowness of a sound. When using music notation, the pitch is represented by different symbols(notes) that are positioned on a staff. These symbols are then given letter names. The letter names used are the first seven letters of the alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.

The Music Staff

The staff is made up of five horizontal lines and four spaces between those lines. Notes may be placed on the lines, on the spaces, or even above or below the staff. Every staff has a clef symbol placed on the far left of the staff. A clef is a symbol that lets us know what the names of the lines and spaces on the staff will be called.


Treble Clef (G Clef)

Guitar music is written in the treble clef. The treble clef is also called the G Clef because of its symbol. The symbol looks like a fancy letter G. Its curved line ends at the second line of the staff, circling the second line from the bottom. This lets us know that the name of a note on that line is G.

Bass Clef (F Clef)

The Bass clef is also known as the F Clef. This clef names the 4th line from the bottom as F. Most of the time on the piano, the left-hand plays in the bass clef, and the right-hand plays in the treble clef.

The Grand Staff

Most piano music is written using the grand staff(Treble and Bass clefs together). For the guitar, we will stick to the treble clef.

Ledger Lines

When a pitch goes beyond the limits of the staff we can still write the pitch by adding what we call ledger lines above or below the staff. Ledger lines are drawn parallel to the staff and should only represent one note.

Other Clefs

C clef – A C clef can be placed on any line of the staff to make that line equal to middle C.

Alto Clef – a c clef that names the third line on the staff as middle C. This is the standard clef for  Viola music.

Tenor Clef – a c clef that names the fourth line as middle C. Sometimes, you may find this clef used in music written for the cello, bassoon, or trombone.