Music notation describes the pitch, timing and duration of sounds & silence called musical Notes and Rests, which are represented by graphic symbols:
Notes -                   Rests -            

Notes and Rests are placed on a grid of horizontal lines separated by spaces. The grid is called a Staff or Stave. The plural form of either word is staves.
The Staff has 5 lines separated by 4 spaces as seen below.

Notes may sit on a line (where the line passes through the note-head), in the space between two lines (where the note-head lies between two adjacent lines), in the space above the top line or on the space below the bottom line.

Notes outside the range covered by the lines and spaces of the staff are placed on, above or below shorter lines, called Leger Lines, which can be placed above or below the staff.

The higher the pitch of the note, the higher vertically the note will be placed on the staff.   Notes are named using the letters from the music alphabet;

A, B, C, D, E, F and G.
To establish the pitch of any note on the staff we place another graphic symbol called a Clef (from the Latin clavis meaning key) at the far left-hand side of the staff. The clef establishes the pitch of the note on one particular line of the staff and thereby fixes the pitch of all the other notes lying on, or related to, the same staff.

It is common practice to visualise each clef as a part of a much larger grid of eleven horizontal lines and ten spaces known variously as the Grand Staff or Grand Stave.

The piano has the greatest range of notes (88) and uses the Grand Staff with 2 clefs, the Treble Clef and the Bass Clef . Each clef has a different range of notes and tells us the note names and their pitch to be played. Every instrument or voice is written for a specific clef.

Here are the 4 clefs used today:

The Treble clef is also called the G clef because the inner curve of the clef symbol marks the horizontal line, marked in red in the diagram below, associated with the note G above middle C.   The treble clef is actually a stylised letter G.

The names of the four inner spaces of the treble clef read upwards to spell the word FACE.

The five lines read upwards to spell EGBDF which you can remember using the phrase 'Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge'.


The Bass clef is also called the F clef because the two dots in the clef symbol lie above and below the horizontal line, marked in red in the diagram, associated with the note F below middle C. The bass clef symbol is actually a stylised letter F where the two horizontal lines of the letter have been reduced to two dots.

The names of the four inner spaces of the bass clef read upwards spell ACEG which you can remember using the phrase 'All Cows Eat Grass'.

For the notes on the lines of the Bass Clef (from bottom to top) GBDFA which you can remember using the phrase 'Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always'.


There are 2 other clefs used in music notation, the Alto and Tenor clefs, which are also known as the C clefs.

The Alto clef is one that use the C clef symbol, so named because the clef symbol is centered on the horizontal line associated with the note middle C. The Alto Clef is currently used for the viola, the viola da gamba, and the alto trombone.

The Tenor clef is used to avoid excessive leger lines when notating very high passages for instruments that normally have their parts written in bass clef. The tenor clef was employed for the tenor voice, although today it is more commonly found in music for the larger tenor and bass viols, some brass instruments (e.g. tenor trombone) and when playing higher notes on the violoncello or bass. The clef is also required for playing much of the bassoon repertoire.

Here are all 4 clefs with Middle C marked on each clef. Various instruments have different pitch ranges such that they use different clefs to avoid extensive use of Leger Lines. This is the reason why there are different clefs used.

The names of the lines and spaces of all 4 clefs:

The guitar uses the Treble Clef with the notes shown below.

It should be noted that guitars have different length fretboards with anywhere between 20 to 24 frets.