Names of Notes – The Musical Alphabet

Note Names – The Musical Alphabet

Grade 1

As well as representing different types of beats, notes in music also represent different pitches. The names of the notes are often referred to as the musical alphabet.

The Musical Alphabet

The musical alphabet consists of the names of notes from A to G alphabetically. Once G is reached, the next note is A and the sequence of A-G repeats again.

The note name is dependant on where the note is located on a staff/stave, and what clef is present. We will look at both the staff and clef in this lesson.

The Staff/Stave

The staff (US) or Stave (UK) is simply five horizontal lines:

Blank Stave

The stave can have notes on or between any of the five lines:

Notes on a Stave


The first thing displayed on a stave is a cleff sign.
There are two clefs you need to know for grade one:

Treble Clef and Bass Clef

Clefs represent the location of a single note. From this note all the other notes can the be worked out.
We’ll demonstrate this first with the Treble Clef.

Treble Clef

The curly/centre bit of the treble clef sits over the note ‘G’. Whatever part of the stave that bit of the treble clef is on, is where the G is.
However, over time it has become standard for the treble clef to always sit on the same line. It is extremely unusual for the treble clef to be located anywhere else on the stave, and a treble clef that isn’t in the standard place on a stave won’t be seen at all during grade one to eight.

Treble Clef on Stave

As all notes are named from A to G alphabetically, with the names repeating after G is reached, we can now work out the names for all of the notes on the treble clef:

Musical Alphabet - Treble Clef

You will also notice that the first note we see is the ‘Middle C’. This note is unique as it is in the middle of a keyboard, and inbetween both the bass and treble clef.
Unlike the other notes, you will notice it does not sit on or between the lines of the stave, and instead has it’s own line through it. This line is called a Ledger Line, and will be touched upon in greater detail in Grade 2.

Bass Clef

The Bass Clef curls around the note ‘F’, with the dots either side of the F line.
Like the Treble Clef, the Bass Clef is now nearly always placed in the same location on the stave, and it is extraordinarily rare to see it anywhere but this location.

Bass Clef on Stave

Therefore, knowing where the F is, we can name all of the other notes for the Bass Clef:

Musical Alphabet - Bass Clef

Again, take note of the highest note in the picture of the bass clef notes above, the middle C. This is the same note in the treble clef, and like the treble clef has a ledger line through it.

Stem Direction

Previously we had seen that notes can point up or down.
The direction they point depends on it’s location on the stave:
If they are above the center line (B in treble or D in Bass), then they will point down.
If they are below the center line, they will point up.
If they are on the center line, they will point up OR down:

Stem Directions

When notes are beamed, all of the notes will point the same direction. The direction they point will be determined by whatever note is the farthest from the center line.

Time Signature

The time signature, as we learnt in lesson two, is only shown once at the start of a piece of music.

The first thing on a stave is the clef, and followed by the time signature.
The numbers in the time signature are writted either side of the center stave line, and are both completely inside the stave.

Time Signature and Clef

Grand Stave

The Grand Stave is often used in keyboard music, where two staves are used (one for each hand).
We link the two staves with a vertical line, to show that both staves are to be played at the same time (often by different instruments). We will also link the two staves by a { symbol to show that both staves are to be played by one instrument.
Don’t worry too much about the linking of staves, it is unimportant at this stage. The main reason we are showing you this is so you recognise the grand stave for a keyboard instrument (like a piano).

Grand Stave