Staff Notation in Music

Music is written down in a number of different ways around the world. In the West, most instruments use a method called staff notation.

The music staff (or stave, as it’s sometimes called) is made up of 5 horizontal lines:

On the music staff, notes are placed on the lines:

and in the spaces:


We always put a clef at the beginning of the music staff. A clef is a symbol which identifies one note by name. We can work out all the other notes from this one.

Treble Clef

The most common clef is the treble clef, which looks like this

Bass Clef

For most low-pitched music, (where most of it is lower than middle C), we use the bass clef.
The bass clef looks like this

Neutral Clef

Neutral Clef is used for pitch-less instruments such as drums and some of the percussions.
The Neutral Clef looks like this

Notes and Rests



American name

British name

Whole note.gif

Whole rest.svg

whole note


Half note.gif

Half rest.svg

half note


Quarter note.gif

Crotchet rest alt plain-svg.svg or Crotchet rest plain-svg.svg

quarter note


Eighth note.gif

Eighth rest.svg

eighth note


Sixteenth note.gif

16th rest.svg

sixteenth note


32nd note.svg

32nd rest.svg

thirty-second note


Whole Note / Semi breve – A whole note will last for 4 beats long.

Half Note / Minim – A half note / minim lasts for 2 beats long

Quarter Note / Crotchet – A quarter note is a note played for quarter of the duration of a whole note.

Eighth Note / Quaver Notes - An eighth note (in the US and Canada) or a quaver (other English-speaking countries) is a musical note played for one eighth the duration of a whole note, hence the name.

Sixtenth Note / Semi-Quavers - a sixteenth note (American) or semiquaver (British; also occasionally demiquaver) is a note played for one sixteenth the duration of a whole note, hence the name. The semiquaver is half of a quaver which is an eighth note.

Thirty-Seccond Note / Demi Semi-Quavers - a thirty second note (American) is a note played for1/32 of the duration of a whole note (or semi breve) it lasts half as long as a sixteenth note (or semi quaver)

How to Count

Note Tree

Measures and Time Signature

Vertical black bars called bar lines divide the staff in to measures.

This staff has been split in to two measures.

Time Signature defines the amount and type of note that each measure contain.

Here are some examples of time signature

The Bottom Number.

The bottom number in time signature tells u the type of beat we ned to count in each bar. The number 4 represents the crochet beat, the number 8 represents the 8th beat or quaver, the number 16 represent the 16th beat or semi quaver.

The Top Number.

The top number tells us how many beats we have to count in each complete bar.


2/4 means we have to count 2 crochet beats in each complete bar.

¾ means we need to count 3 crochet beats.

4/4 means we need to count 4 crochet beats.

7/8 means we need to count 7 quaver beats.

17/16 means we need to count 17 semi quavers.

Here is an example in 24 time signature.

Dotted Notes

In music theory all notes and rests can have their lengths increased if we add one or more dots Dots are always placed on the right side of the note head A dot makes a note (or rest) longer by 50% . Or in other words, a dotted note is equal to itself plus half of itself.


Dynamics are all about volume of music.

Players need to understand few different words (and abbreviations or short forms) for dynamics. To make things easier we can group those words in to two categories – Static and Changing.

A static dynamic means that all the music should be played at that volume, until another direction is given.

A changing dynamics means that the music should gradually begin to change in volume (up or down) and continue changing until the next direction.

Static dynamics

ff        = Fortissimo                 = Very loud
f          = Forte                         = Loud
mf       = Mezzo Forte             = Moderately loud
mp      = Mezzo Piano            = Moderately quiet
p          = Piano                         = Quiet
pp        = Pianissimo                 = very Quiet

Changing Dynamics

Crescendo means gradually getting louder it is shortened to cresc. Diminuendo means gradually getting quitter and is shortened to dim.

The same indiacation can be given with hair pin symbols

Gradually getting louder
Gradually getting quitter

Notation Key

The Notation Key will some times change from book to book. Bellow is the notation key used in this website.