A Staff of 5 Lines and 6 Spaces – by Mike Overly

May 6, 2015

MamuscriptYou 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.

5 Lines




And here are the 4 spaces between the lines.

4 Spaces




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.

G Clef




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.

Line 2 G




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.

5 Line Letters





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.

4 Space Letters





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.

3 Staff Notes




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.

6 Space Letters




We’ll end this lesson by revealing this new staff note truth of 5 lines and 6 spaces.

5 Lines 6 Spaces





‘til next time, have some 5 Line, 6 Space staff note fun… I’ll be listening!


Open is the Exception to the Rule – by Mike Overly

November 6, 2014

Bass NutIf we were to learn any subject, and we began with an exception to the rule – without even knowing there was a rule – do you think that we would learn that subject very well? Of course not! So, let’s begin this lesson by stating a simple rule: all sounds on your bass may be played by using a left-hand finger, even if that sound is at the nut. For example, on string four, the letter E is at the nut, which may be played by using a finger, that’s the rule. Let’s think about this.

If you were asked to play fret seven of string four, you would use a finger without even being told to. In other words, you realize that you can not make a fretted sound without using a finger. That’s a given, or in Latin, a priori, which means: existing in the mind before it is actually experienced in the real world. Here’s another way to think about the rule: to play a fret is to use a finger, even when that fret is the nut!
Here’s the important part. When you play a sound at the nut and use a finger, you call the nut: fret zero. Said another way, when you think fret, you think finger. This fret and finger association is the rule. However, you may play the sound at the nut by not using a left-hand finger. In this case, you would call the nut: open. Open is the exception to the rule!

Ask any six year old what is this symbol: O. The answer will probably be: a circle! Remember, a symbol is something that represents something else and when a circle symbolizes a number it is called zero and when the circle is a symbol for a letter it is O, as in Open. Let’s read this telephone number: 555-1230. Did you read five-five-five-one-two-three and the number zero, or did you read: five-five-five-one-two-three and the letter O? Most read the letter O. Now why is that? One of my students said, O represents Operator on the telephone key pad. Good answer. However, notice that zero ends with the letter O, and many, instead of saying the whole word zero, have shortened it to just the letter O. This is interesting, calling a number a letter, because it also happens with TAB.

We have previously learned the simple definition of TAB: four horizontal lines symbolizing four strings, with fret numbers on those lines to indicate which fret on that string is to be to fingered and played. Let’s read the following TAB.

Bass TABDid you read the fret numbers: one-two-two and the number zero or did you read: one-two- two and the letter O, as in Open! As Dr. Seuss might have said it: say what you mean and mean what you say. Now, let’s explore the sound at the nut.

When a sound is at the nut, and only at the nut, you may play this sound in two different ways. 1) by thinking of the nut as fret zero and applying the rule by using a left-hand a finger, or, 2) thinking of the nut as Open and applying the exception to the rule by not using a finger.

Bass NutNow, here’s a trick question: How many frets are there on a 24 fret guitar? Sounds easy, but surprisingly, there are 25, 24 frets plus 1 fret zero! Here’s another way to think about it. There are 100 sounds on a 24 fret bass. Here’s the math: 4 strings X 24 frets + 4 sounds at fret zero, the nut = 100 sounds. Said another way, 4 strings X 25 frets = 100 sounds. What do you think about that – there are 25 frets on a 24 fret guitar!

Now, let’s illustrate the rule with a movable major chord. Notice that the movable form “circle four-one” major chord can play all 21 letter name major chords!

FormAnd the exception to the rule. Notice that the non-movable Open major chord can only play one major chord – E major!

OpenLet’s end this lesson by applying these two major chord fingerings, fret zero and Open, to Johnny Smith’s: Walk, Don’t Run, made famous by The Ventures, in 1960.

Song ProgressionAs we can see, the rule is faster because it’s more efficient because all the chords have the same fingering. In contrast, the exception to the rule, Open, is less efficient and slower because you  change your left-hand  fingering to play Open. But remember, one fingering is not better than the other, they’re just different, and both have their unique benefits. Viva la Difference!

’til next time, have some fun at the Nut, no matter how you play it…I’ll be listening!


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