You have been led to believe that if you want to be “serious” about learning guitar, you must first learn to read the “notes.” This isn’t true. Unless you are a drummer, you must learn the letters of the staff before you read the notes.
When you first started to play guitar, you did the same thing we all do: you bought a guitar and a guitar method book 1. This seemed logical, however, this is where your problems began.
Let’s say you bought a method book 1 and are all set to play some guitar. After a few pages of stuff that you skip over, like: what a guitar looks like, how to tune and how to hold the guitar and pick, you encounter a page that has a whole bunch of music symbols on it. You know this must be important and that you probably should memorize it, but, you’re so overwhelmed that you just end up turning the page.
So, let’s slow down and discover a different way to make sense of all those music symbols. We’ll begin with the staff because this is the first idea of traditional music theory, and for a musician playing guitar, it’s the start of many unfolding problems.
Traditional music theory teaches that the staff has 5 lines and 4 spaces between the lines. The following illustrates the 5 lines of the staff.
And here are the 4 spaces between the lines.
The Clef is the next idea presented on the music symbols page and it isn’t even a symbol, it’s a sign! Good thing we learned in the Tone Note® Music Method for Guitar Book 1 that a symbol represents something and a sign tells you to do something.
The purpose of the clef sign is to tell you where to place the letters of pitch on the lines and spaces of the staff. Although there are many different clef signs, the G Clef, also known as the Treble Clef, is used for guitar staff note music. The following diagram places the G Clef at the beginning the staff.
The name of the G Clef is very helpful because it tells you with certainty that the letter G is placed on line 2 of the staff. The Treble Clef’s name isn’t as helpful because the definition of treble is “high sounds” and that’s a bit ambiguous.
The following example illustrates the staff, the G Clef and the pitch letter G on line 2 of the staff. Notice that the “curly part” of the G Clef wraps around line 2.
Since you now know where the letter G is located on the staff, you can easily understand where the other letters are located on the lines of the staff by simply skipping a letter in the 7 letter musical alphabet order. Think of it this way: A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A….
This letter skipping order for the 5 lines of the staff is easily remembered by this sentence: Every Good Beginner Does Fine! The following example illustrates the five letters of pitch on the 5 lines of the staff.
Now, you will easily understand where the 4 space letters are located on the staff by again skipping a letter in the 7 letter musical alphabet. Again, think of it this way: A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A….
This skipping letter order creates a word for the 4 spaces of the staff: F A C E. The following diagram illustrates the four letters on the 4 spaces of the staff.
For the remainder of this lesson, a quarter note will be placed on a line or space of the staff to imply the letter of pitch that is to be thought. Notice that the stem that is attached to the head of the quarter note may be up or down. This is done to keep the stem on the staff. In our next lesson, Introduction to Staff Notes Part 2, we’ll go into much greater detail about notes and rhythm.
Now, here’s something interesting. Although there are many reasons why learning fails, there are two that are most common. Neither one is your fault, they’re both the fault of your teacher!
Stated simply, learning fails if the teacher: 1) shows, tells or uses something that you were not taught, or, 2) teaches you something and then doesn’t use it until much later, if ever. Without immediate reinforcement there will be no long-term memory. In other words, you failed to learn because you fail to remember. But, it’s not your fault!
A typical guitar method book 1 presents a perfect example of using something that you were not taught. Remember, you were told that there are 4 spaces on the staff, however, the following 3 staff notes are what you are expected to learn first.
Do you see the problem? If you are asked what space the quarter note is placed for the letter G, you will not have an answer. This is because it isn’t on one of the 4 spaces that you were taught. Said one more time, something is being used that you were not taught!
Fortunately, this problem has a simple solution: there are 6 spaces! And these 6 spaces have 6 letters: D FACE G. The following diagram illustrates the 6 space locations on the staff with their 6 letter names.
We’ll end this lesson by revealing this new staff note truth of 5 lines and 6 spaces.
‘til next time, have some 5 Line, 6 Space staff note fun… I’ll be listening!