A Set of five horizontal lines that contain four spaces. Each line or space represents a different pitch which is determined by the clef indicated at the beginning of the line


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When music on more than one line is intended to be played together by a single performer, you join the two staves together with a brace (bracket).  The bar lines will also run through both staffs.  Instruments that use a Grand Staff are: keyboard (piano, harpsichord, organ), harp, mallet percussion (marimba, vibraphone, etc.).

A DOUBLE BAR LINE is required at the end of every piece or movement of music.


It's alphabetical: Clef, Key Signature, Time Signature

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When writing music on a staff, the key signature comes first and the time signature comes second.  The key signature is written on every subsequent staff while the time signature needs only be written at the beginning of the piece and when there is a change.


A CLEF is a symbol used to indicate the placement of specific pitches on a staff.  Each one of the three clefs indicate where a G (Sol), F (Fa), or C (Do) is on the staff and serves as a reference point from which one can read all of the other notes.  We have multiple clefs to keep the range of various voices/instruments within the five lines of staff.* 

*(Historically this was to avoid ledger lines that ate up prime real estate on the page and were tricky to incorporate into printing and copying practices. Today, most music is "simplified" into Treble or Bass clefs, a phenomenon that started in the mid 1800's as music publishers sought to reach as many customers as possible.

G (Sol) Clefs: The curl of the clef wraps around G, a Perfect Fifth above middle C

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F (Fa) Clefs: The two dots surround F, a Perfect Fifth below middle C.    

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C (Do) Clefs: Middle C rests in the center of the clef

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The lower the clef is on the staff, the

higher the range of the instrument

High on staff =

lower range

Low on staff =

higher range

Possible Clefs in range from High to Low.

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Originally, the clef shapes were a G, F, and C, to signify the notes they were indicating. Overtime, they got "fancier". Check out this article from the Smithsonian from which the following diagram comes from.


This article from VOX is also great and contains this fun diagram.



Have you struggled to draw a beautiful treble clef?

So did these composers...



The major scale is the foundation for most of Western Classical Harmony.  It has seven notes between an octave, made up of two identical tetrachords separated by a whole step:

*a tetrachord is a collection of four notes

Scale degrees:      1        2        3        4       5        6         7       8 (1)

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To create a major scale, one can start on any note, but must have this order of Whole and Half steps for the scale to be considered Major.  The half steps must always be found between scale degrees 3-4 and 7-8.


Since any Major scale is made up of two identical tetrachords, each Major scale shares one of its tetrachords with two other Major keys.  For example, Do Major shares its lower tetrachord with Fa Major, and its higher tetrachord with Sol Major.  Sib Major shares its lower tetrachord with Sib Major.  Sib Major shares its lower tetrachord with Mib Major.  We could keep going with this formula and would eventually arrive back at Do Major, circling through the Circle of Fifths.

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Notes that occur in any Major or minor key are diatonic to that key.



We derive our key signatures from the sharps or flats used to create a Major scale from any starting pitch.  When we start from Do, and use our Major scale formula of (WWh)W(WWh) the pitches that we get are all natural.  When we start from La and use our formula for the major scale, we get 3#’s, Fa#, Do#, and Sol# which is the key signature for La Major. You can find the key signature for any key by following the Major scale formula from your desired tonic.

The order of sharps ascend by fifths, while flats descend by fifths.

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In sharp keys, the last sharp is always a half step away from the key, (or the 7th scale degree/leading tone). 

*Way to remember: “Sharp Seven”.  The order of sharps rises by Perfect Fifths (falls by Perfect Fourths).


In flat keys, the last flat is always the fourth scale degree. 

*Way to remember: “Flat four”.  The order of flats rises by Perfect Fourths (falls by Perfect Fifths).



Modes are created when you start a Major scale and play a scale from a scale degree other than 1.  While the Major scale formula (WWh)W(WWh) remains intact, because you start from different places, each modal scale has a unique quality because of the repositioned order of Whole and Half steps.

Scale Degree   Mode Name

1        Ionian

2        Dorian

3        Phrygian

4        Lydian

5        Mixolydian

6        Aeolian (Natural minor)

7        Locrian

* A fun mnemonic to remember your modes is:

I Don't PHreaking Like Modes Anyway Loser

Here are two ways to look at deriving your modes. Both work, and I use them both interchangeably.

1. Deriving modes from the Major scale, or Ionian mode.

So...if you need to find a D Dorian scale, you would ask yourself...

What scale degree is Dorian derived from? Answer: 2

D is scale degree 2 in what key? Answer: C Major

Therefore, D Dorian starts on D, but uses notes that are diatonic (or in the key of) C Major

Modes 1.jpg

2. Deriving modes from altering scale degrees from the Major parallel key.

So...if you need to find a C Dorian scale, you would ask yourself...

What is the key signature of C major? Answer: no sharps, no flats

What notes are altered in Dorian mode? Answer: b3, b7

Therefore, C Dorian has two flats in the scale: b3 (Eb) and b7 (Bb)

Modes 2.jpg


The half step between scale degrees 2-3 gives the minor scale it’s distinctive quality.  In relation to a Major scale, minor scales have lowered scale degrees 3, 6, and 7.  There are three types of minor scales in Western Classical Harmony.


Can be derived two ways:

1. By starting on the 6th scale degree of a Major scale

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2. By lowering the 3rd, 6th, and 7th scale degrees of a Major scale.

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Natural minor scale with a raised 7th scale degree (creates a leading tone).

Used for harmonic purposes: i.e. to create a Major V chord (contains the leading tone).

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The Augmented 2nd that is created between the lowered 6th scale degree (b6) and the raised seventh scale degree (#7) give harmonic minor it's recognizable sound, also creates an oversized "hole" in the scale. To smooth the gap over, musicians created...


Natural minor scale with a raised 6th and 7th scale degree on the way up. 

On the way down, you lower the 7th and 6th scale degrees back to natural minor as a leading tone is not necessary if you are not returning back to 1, and so that the scale still feels "minor" (if you kept scale degrees 6 and 7 raised on the way down, it would be a Major scale until you get to b3...)  

The melodic minor scale gets it's name because it is used for melodic purposes: i.e. to avoid the Augmented 2nd between b6 and #7 in harmonic minor that is uncomfortable to sing.

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You can see this all back to back in the following diagram

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Because sharps and flats increase/decrease respectively in fifths, a tonal relationship is set up where one can start in a key with no sharps/flats, and travel through all 24 keys back to the starting key seamlessly.

If you travel counter clockwise, each Major key is a fifth apart from each other (Do, Fa, Sib, Mib, etc.) *each key shares a tetrachord with the keys to it's immediate left and right in the circle of fifths: thus, Do shares a tetrachord with Fa and Sol.

As is each minor key (la, re, sol, do, etc.)


If you travel from a Major key, first to it's relative minor, you descend by alternating minor and Major thirds (Do, la, Fa, re, Sib, sol, Mib, do etc...)

The circle of fifths diagram visually represents how closely related two keys are.  While a move from Do Major to Sol major requires the addition of only one sharp, a move from Do major to Fa # Major requires a dramatic shift from no accidentals, to 6 sharps.

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*enharmonic keys (two keys with the same pitch, but spelled differently)  must have sharps and flats that add up to 12. For example: Db Major has 5b, it's enharmonic equivalent, C# Major, has 7 sharps.

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This is a great way to practice your scales! Set your metronome to the beat that you can perform the "hardest" scale in without difficulty. Then, start on Do, and cycle through all of your Major and relative minor keys until you get back to Do.



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Dots: a dot attached to a note or a rest adds half the value of the attached note.

        Dotted quarter = quarter + 8th

        Doubly dotted quarter = quarter + 8th + 16th




the beat subdivides into two parts and multiples thereof

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The beat subdivides into 3 parts and multiples thereof.  The beat has a note value that is dotted.

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It can be confusing for students when they first encounter a compound time signature. If we 

add: diagram of translation 


how to translate



The volume of a sound or note

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Differences in performance techniques that change the effects of the sounds

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