Staves consist of 5 lines as shown. Music is written by positioning notes on the lines or in the spaces of the staff. The higher a note is on the staff the higher it sounds. This is a note on the staff:
This alone does not tell us which note to play. First we need to learn about clefs. Piano music is written using two staves because of the large range of notes the piano covers. The top staff begins with a treble clef and the bottom staff begins with a bass clef. The clef tells you which note each of the lines and spaces correspond to.
Using this diagram, the note from the example above would be a ‘D’ in Treble Clef, but would be an ‘F’ in Bass Clef. As you might have noticed, the letters shown on the staff repeat over and over again. It is also worth noting that the ‘C’ at the bottom of the treble clef staff and the ‘C’ at the top of the bass clef staff are actually the same note. The notes from the staff map directly onto the white notes of a piano:
These keys, just like the letters on the staff, are repeated over and over again.
Now these keys can be mapped onto the staff:
This is by no means the full extent of notes. They can keep rising above or falling below each staff by adding additional ‘ledger lines’ like this:
What about the black keys? When do you play them? Well it turns out notes can be flattened (using a the flat symbol ‘♭’) or sharpened (using a the sharp symbol ‘#’). To understand how to flatten or sharpen notes, we need to look at the piano again and observe the intervals between the keys.
The interval from one piano key, to the piano key directly next to it, forms a semitone. As shown, a tone is made up of two semitones (this interval is formed by skipping one note). Also, there can be more than one name for each key, for example C# and D♭ are both names for the first black key in the image shown above. On the staff, sharps and flats are displayed before a note, like this:
When sharps or flats are placed directly next to notes, they are referred to as ‘accidentals’. An accidental will last until the end of a bar, so if a note is sharpened it will remain sharpened until the bar ends. In order to return the note back to its un-sharpened state, a ‘natural’ can be used:
A natural is also classified as an accidental. The more common way to indicate which notes should be sharpened or flattened is by including them in a ‘key signature’ next to the clef like this:
In this case F, C and G notes will be sharpened until the music ends. Accidentals will override a key signature for a single bar and it is also possible to change the key signature part way through the music.