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!


Guitar Clef ® – by Mike Overly

February 10, 2015

12 Tone LogoThe Guitar Clef ® is a registered trademark of 12 Tone Music Publishing, LLC and it is more than just a clever logo design, it is symbolic of the way guitar music is notated. Here’s what I mean.

Guitar is a transposing instrument. It sounds one octave lower than it is written in staff notation. In other words, staff music for guitar is written in the Treble Clef, however, the majority of the guitar sounds in the Bass Clef.

Let’s begin with the first staff note shown in every book 1 guitar method: string 1, fret zero/open, E.

Staff Note E

Now, this doesn’t pose a problem unless you’re playing with another treble clef instrument for example, the piano. This is because when the guitar and the piano read and play the same staff note, two different sounds are heard. Remember, the guitar sounds one octave lower than the staff note that is written. This is why guitar staff notation should have an 8 beneath the treble clef. This tell the player to play the staff note one octave lower than written. However, you won’t see it used in guitar method books.

Here’s another common book 1 example: string 2, fret 1, C. Notice that this example uses ledger lines. Ledger lines enable pitches to be written that extend lower, and higher, than the 5 lines of the staff. It should be noted that this is the first staff note presented in the Tone Note™ Music Method for Guitar Book 2.

Staff Note C

When the treble clef begins to use ledger lines below the staff, the bass clef becomes useful.

treble bass clef

This next example shows how guitar notation writes a treble clef C, how it actually sounds in the treble clef, and how the actual sound is written in the bass clef.

C treble bass clef

Book 1 guitar methods only teach three open position treble clef staff notes on string 2, B C D. The following example shows how guitar notation writes B C D in the treble clef, how it actually sounds in the treble clef, and how the actual sounds are written in the bass clef.

Staff Notes B C D

This next example illustrates the complete range of open position treble clef staff notes that are presented in every book 1 guitar method. Pitch letters and circled string numbers have been added. Now, you can clearly see that the majority of the guitar’s pitches actually sound in the bass clef.

3 Staves

There is only one book that I know of that presents the actual pitches of the guitar in true staff notation: the Johnny Smith Approach to Guitar, published in 1971 by Mel Bay MB93669. Here is a Schoenberg example Johnny included in his book to illustrate that others have acknowledged and used this actual pitch guitar staff notation.

Schoenberg guitar

In Johnny’s book, he writes guitar music using two braced treble and bass staves that look like like piano staff music. Here is what a C major chord looks like in actual pitch treble and bass staff notation.

Open C major chord


Again, you can again easily see that the vast majority of the guitar actually sounds in the bass clef. And this is why the Guitar Clef ® is not only clever and trademarked ~ it’s true!

’til next time, have some guitar playing fun no matter what clef you use… I’ll be listening!


Ol’ Skool images hand written, cut, taped and scanned by MO. ;~)

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