The time has finally come to show some notes on a musical staff.
The scheme is rather straightforward. The notes on the staff follow the white keys on the piano keyboard. Each successive white key goes up half of a staff line. A note can be on a staff line or in the space between staff lines. The range of notes is not limited by the height of the staff; notes can go right off the top or bottom of the staff. In these cases, you draw in little pieces of the staff lines (ledger lines) that would have been there if only the staff were taller. A picture should make this perfectly clear:
The notes on the staff
But how do you know what notes they actually are? You could guess that higher notes on the staff represent higher pitches, but unless I told you a letter name of one of the notes, you’d still be lost. Once you knew one note’s name, however, you could figure out the rest easily enough by just going through the letters from A to G until you reached your note. For example, if I told you that the note straddling the bottom line of the staff was E, and asked you what note straddles the top line of the staff, you could count up the lines and spaces: E, F (space between the bottom two lines), G (second line from the bottom), A, B, C, D, E, F. So the note straddling the top line of the staff would be F.
By the way, generally the lines are counted from bottom to top, so if someone says “there was a note on the first line of the staff” they mean that the note was on the bottom line. I can imagine jazz musicians using this terminology all the time: “So, dig this, man, I went to this jam session, and they gave me the chart, and there was, like, this note on the first line of the staff.”
So is the bottom line’s note really E? It depends. This is where clefs come into play. Essentially, a clef is a goofy-looking symbol at the left of the staff, and some key feature of the clef’s symbol tells you what one of the notes is. Here is a picture of some clefs:
Musical clefs and their names
On the left we have the treble clef, also referred to as a G-clef.