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Music Theory: Part 1

Music Theory: Part 1

Over the past few articles in this new music section of the magazine I’ve covered quite a lot of the popular instruments, and there’s still more of that to come, as well as a variety of other music related subjects. But, before we get to that, I thought I’d go over some basic music theory, in case any readers were confused by some of the terminology I’ve used in the article’s we’ve had so far. So here we go!

Let’s begin with how music is written. Music for pretty much any instrument is written on a staff. This is a sort of grid drawn on paper, which consists of five parallel, horizontal lines, with four spaces between the lines. These staffs will have various pieces information written on them, which will tell any instrumentalist how to perform a song. To begin with, at the beginning of each horizontal line of the staff, there will be a little symbol known as the clef. The two most common clefs used are the Treble Clef and the Bass Clef. Dependant on which symbol is used, the player knows whether they are playing higher notes or lower notes. Some instruments only play from the treble clef, such as the flute, while others, such as the bass guitar, will only play from the bass clef. The piano is quite unique as it plays from both clefs, usually at the same time, as the left hand plays the bass clef, and the right plays the treble clef. This is one of the benefits of playing a piano, since it can play a lot more notes at the same time, and over a much broader range than many other instruments.


The piece of music reads from left to right (just like a book), so if you keep reading like this you can follow along the piece of music. On the staff you’ll see dots drawn either on one of the lines or in one of the spaces. Each line or space refers to a certain note in the scale of C. This scale features the notes ABCDEFG repeated as you continue going up. In the treble clef staff the spaces are lettered FACE (easy to remember), and the lines are lettered EGBDF. So when there is a dot on the second line up, we know to play a G note. Not all of the possible notes fit within the stave, so ledger lines (small lines above and below the staff) are used to show you which note to play, and as long as you keep counting through the ABCDEFG pattern, you can work out which note to play. The most important note to know is Middle C, found at the centre of the piano. This is found on the first ledger line below the staff, making the space between that line and the first line of the standard staff a D. The bass clef spaces are ACEG and the lines are notes GBDFA. The first ledger line above the top of the bass clef stave holds the Middle C. Therefore the notes on the treble clef stave are above Middle C, and those on the bass clef stave are below Middle C.

Now comes, the next problem. How do musicians know how long to hold these notes for? This will be the topic of our next music theory article.


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