An Introduction to the Treble Clef.


Restrictions of the Tonic-so-fa. So far we have learnt about how pitch and the tonic-sol-fa provides a medium for understanding music, however there is much more to music than just the tonic-sol-fa. The tonic-sol-fa is used mainly by teachers to teach singers to sing. If we want to fully understand the world of music theory, both written and read, we have to have some understanding of how the notes are displayed. Listen to the following excerpt from "You Raise Me Up."

Hopefully you heard the change in pitch (This was a key change - more later). We can write this using the tonic-sol-fa, but there is a better way for musicians, and that is to use sheet music notation. Don't misunderstand me - there is a place for the tonic-sol-fa, but it becomes restrictive and bloated when we start to write complex sheet music.

The Music Staff.
In our previous tutorial "Pitch and the Tonic-sol-fa" we learnt that notes have pitch and that these pitches can be represented by letters of the alphabet, but how should they be represented in written music? We could of course simply write them as A,B,C etc., but a method has evolved which gives us much more information just by looking at the sheet music (often called a score), so without further ado let's have a look at an example:

As can be seen, the notes are written on a series of horizontal lines and spaces called a Staff or Stave, These terms have been used interchangeably in the history of music, so I will be doing so too. By Writing the notes on the staff like this we can see that the notes have a relationship to each other and that this relationship is higher, lower or, if it is the same note, equal. We don't have to work this out as it is obvious from the position of a note on the Staff. Were we to use A, B, C etc., we would have to work this out. Would an A, for example be higher or lower than a C? It could be either but looking at the Staff we can immediately see the relationship between the notes.
Note:- notation exists to allow the use of numbers - but we will not muddy the waters at this time.

Note the names of the notes. The spaces - from the bottom up - spell out the word FACE, so we have a ready acronym to help us remember which notes go in which spaces. The notes on the lines however do not have a ready acronym and so we have to invent one. Many acronyms have been created for this purpose, but the one I first learnt at school is Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, but you can use any one you like. Lets now have a look at the notes on the Staff using this notation.

Notice the symbol to the extreme left of the Staff. This is called the Treble Clef. The word Treble denotes that the pitch of the notes is in the upper, or Treble Staff (there are also other staffs, but we will learn about those later). The Clef (from the French word for key) is an old symbol for G and we can see that this G curls around second line, or the note G, on the Staff. For this reason the Treble Clef is also known as the G Clef. The two fours indicate the time signature, but we shall cover that very soon.

Notes below the Staff
We now know that the Staff represents the notes E through E to F and that this represents nine notes and that our simple C Major scale starts and finishes on the note C. But we have only one C on our Staff, so how can we write the C Major scale? The answer: create notes below the Staff. Since our starting note is C we can write this below the Staff. But wait - there is a D between our C and the first note, E, on the Staff so where does that go? Simple we will create another line and therefore a space below the Staff and we can put our C on the line and the D in the space. Examine the C Major scale now (I have included the tonic-sol-fa in order that you can see the relationship of the tonic-sol-fa to the notes on the treble clef when the tonic-sol-fa is in the C Major key).

Leger Lines.
Now I want you to notice the two bottom notes C and D (do and re). Notice that the note C is on its own line but, this is not a full length line. These short lines, which can be above or below the Staff, are called leger lines. The note C on the leger line is actually correctly named C4, but is usually referred to as middle C. You should memorise all of the notes and which spaces and lines they occupy from the above example. It is best to do this now, so take some time out and learn them by rote before continuing. You should be able to look at a note on the staff and recognise it as quickly as you would if you were looking at the algebraic notation.

The C Major Scale.
Below is the C Major scale in standard music notation. Do not worry at the moment if the notation seems strange, everything will become clear in due course. The main points for you to focus on are

  1. Listen to the notes.
  2. Look at the note names (above the stave) as they are being played. To be able to understand music notation you have to learn the names of the notes by rote, so try to learn and remember them.
  3. The names of the tonic sol-fa are also displayed below the stave when the scale is playing. To see them ensure that the cursor is external to the video window. It would be worth learning how these relate to the names of the notes in standard music notation.
  4. Although they are not shown here (this is just the C Major Scale) the three top notes of the staff 'D', 'E' and 'F' should also be remembered (refer to the Music Staff paragraph above if you need to) giving you a total of eleven notes to remember at this stage.
C Major Scale

Length of notes and time
Now that we know the names and pitch of the notes we should be able to play or sing a simple tune. One of the tunes that fits into the tonic sol-fa (Major scale) is Frere Jacques. We will use the same notes from the C Major scale that we covered in the previous paragraph.

But what about the length of note?
Singing or playing each note for the same length of time would create a monotony of sound, and so one of the things we can do to make our music more interesting is to vary the length of the notes which make up a tune. The first eight notes of this song vary in pitch but, as we already know, are all the same length. Now if this were repeated throughout the song, the song would become very boring and uninteresting. Let’s listen to an excerpt from Frere Jacques where the notes are all the same length, I have added the note names below the notes to help forge a relationship between note names and visual notes in the music (don't worry about the two notes below the middle C in the penultimate and final bars - we shall be looking at them later).

Frere Jacques (Boring!)

How boring was that? As a song it was recognisable, but had no sense of rhythm or timing. Let's change the length of some of the notes:

Frere Jacques (With Style!)

Wow! Not the most inspiring tune in the world I agree, but didn't it come to life? What changed? Now, to help explain this, I have added bar numbers. As you can see above, vertical lines (bar lines ) group notes into regular chunks, these chunks are called bars or measures. Each bar has a number above which helps us identify a particular moment in the music. The only thing I changed were the note lengths of some of the notes. The first changes were in bars 3 and 4 where the G notes were double the length of the preceding notes. Continuing on, bars 5 and 6 had four notes each which were half the length of the notes at the beginning. Finally, just like bars 3 and 4, bars 7 and 8 had notes doubled in length. These changes gave the melody a feeling of rhythm.
Next lesson: Notes and Rests