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Notation: Melody

Notation of Pitch

The term pitch describes the highness or lowness (the frequency) of a tone. In music notation, pitches are represented by symbols positioned on a staff and identified with letter names.

The Staff

The staff consists of five equally spaced horizontal lines.

Letter Names

The Clefs

A clef is a symbol placed at the beginning of a line of music that establishes the letter names of the lines and spaces of the staff.

Treble Clef (G)

The treble clef or G clef is an ornate letter G. The curved line terminates at the second line of the staff, thus designating the letter name of a note on that line as G.

Bass Clef (F)

The bass clef is called the F clef because it was derived from the letter F. The dots are placed above and below the fourth line of the staff, designating that line as F.

Grand Staff

Together, the treble and bass staves make up a grand staff. Figure below shows the point at which both clefs converge. The two Cs are the same pitch: middle C.

The grand staff is associated most often with keyboard music. Figure below shows the relationship between the grand staff, the standard 88-key piano keyboard, and middle C.

Ledger Lines

Pitches that go beyond the limits of the staff are written by adding ledger lines above or below the staff. Ledger lines, which parallel the staff, accommodate only one note.

C Clef

A C clef may be positioned on any line of the staff to designate middle C. This clef is coupled with a set of secondary names that identify each of the possible positions.

Alto Clef

The alto clef is a C clef that designates the third line of the staff as middle C. It is the standard clef used in music for viola.

Tenor Clef

The tenor clef is a C clef that designates the fourth line of the staff as middle C. The tenor clef is occasionally found in music written for cello, bassoon, or trombone.

Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, and Baritone Clefs

The soprano, mezzo soprano, and baritone clefs are C clefs used less often than the alto and tenor clefs. In each case the line indicated by the notch of the clef is designated as middle C.

Octave Identification

Since the pitch spectrum is so wide, it is often necessary to identify a specific note by the octave in which it appears. Thus, middle C is distinguished from any other C in the pitch spectrum by the written designation C4.

The 8va above the right portion of the treble staff in Figure 1.9 means that the pitch sounds an octave above the written note. This symbol is used when a large number of ledger lines make note reading diffi cult. A related symbol, 8vb, is used to indicate when a pitch sounds an octave below the written note.

The system of octave identification in Figure above is recommended by the International Acoustical Society and is used in Braille music notation. Each octave of this system is numbered, beginning with A0 for the lowest note on the piano and extending to C8 for the highest note on the piano.


Accidentals are symbols that are placed to the left of the note heads to indicate the raising or lowering of a pitch.


An interval is the relationship between two tones. In Western music, the half step is the smallest interval used. It is the interval between any two adjacent keys—black or white— on the keyboard.

Enharmonic Equivalents

Enharmonic equivalents are tones that have the same pitch but different letter names.

Half-Step Motion

In passages of music involving half-step motion, a flatted note is followed most often by a note with a different letter name a half step lower.

A sharped note is followed most often by a note with a different letter name a half step higher in passages involving half-step motion.

Notation of Duration

The Tie

The tie is a curved line that connects two adjacent notes of the same pitch into a single sound with a duration equal to the sum of both note values.

The Dot

Placed to the right of a note head, the dot lengthens the value of the note by half again its value. A second dot lengthens the dotted note value by half the length of the first dot.

Dots may also be used with rests and affect them in the same way.

Irregular Division of Notes

A note value may be divided or subdivided into any number of equal parts, as shown in the chart in Figure below. Those divisions and subdivisions that require added numbers are called irregular divisions and subdivisions.

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Jun 09, 2023
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