Music theory > Lessons > Pitch of sounds > The staff (stave)

The staff (stave)

This concept has several names depending on the language of the country in which it is used:

united states of america Staff (sing.) / staves (plur.)
united kingdom Stave (sing.) / staves (plur.)


The staff united states of america (stave united kingdom) is like grid formed of horizontal lines and spaces. This grid called staff is used to write music notes. The most common staff has five horizontal lines and four spaces. Lines and spaces are numbered from bottom to top and music notes can be on a line or in a space.

Staff, lines ans spaces

Usage of the staff united states of america (stave united kingdom)

Music notes are read from left to right, like a book.

staff, direction of reading

Music notes can be written on a line or in a space.

Music notes can be written on a line or in a space

If a note is in a line, next and previous notes will be on spaces.

If a note is in a line, next and previous notes will be on spaces.

If a note is on a space, next and previous notes will be on lines.

If a note is on a space, next and previous notes will be on lines.

High-pitched notes are on top of the staff, and low-pitched notes are on the bottom of the staff.

Staff, low and high notes positions

Ledger lines

If there is no more lines or space to draw music notes, ledger lines are used. Ledger lines will extend the staff, and there can be as many ledger lines as needed.

staff and ledger lines


Note: The word ledger can be spelled leger.

Grand staff united states of america / Great stave united kingdom


The grand staff is composed by 2 staves joined by a curly bracket (called a “brace”) and is mainly used for the piano or the harp. The grand staff increase the range of music notes that can be written.

Example with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star played by a harp:


Ensemble staves


For more than one instrument, multiple staves are used.

Here is an example of the divertimento K563 from Mozart for violin, viola and cello.


Other staves

Staff united states of america (stave united kingdom) for percussion instruments

Some percussion instruments need only one staff, in this case just one line is needed.

Example with a tambourine:


Staff united states of america (stave united kingdom)for the guitar

A lot of guitarists don't use the 5 lines staff but use a 6 lines staff instead. There is one line for each string of the instrument, it is called a tablature (TAB), the lowest line represent the lowest string and the highest line represent the highest string.


Staff united states of america (stave united kingdom)for the bass guitar

The bass guitar has only 4 strings, so the tablature is composed by only 4 lines.


Non similar staves usage

Non similar staves can be used simultaneously


Ancient staves

In the past, like for Gregorian chants, the staves was very different, with only 4 lines.

Old staves, gregorian chants

What do you will see on staves

On staves, you will see:

Elements on staff

Test your knowledge



How many lines are there in a standard staff (like for the piano or the violin)?

In a staff like those for the piano, there are five lines.

  • 4 lines
  • 5 lines
  • 6 lines
  • 7 lines
  • Too much


How many spaces are there in a standard staff (like for the piano or the violin)?

In a staff like those for the piano, there are four spaces.

  • 4 spaces
  • 5 spaces
  • 6 spaces
  • 7 spaces
  • Too much


Where are the high-pitched notes placed in the staff?

High-pitched notes are on top of the staff.

  • on top
  • at the bottom
  • in the middle
  • it depends


Where are the low-pitched notes placed in the staff?

High-pitched notes are on top of the staff.

  • on top
  • at the bottom
  • in the middle
  • it depends


What is a grand staff (great stave)?

When two staves are joined by a brace, to be played at once by a single performer (piano, organ, harp), it is called a grand staff (American English) or great stave (British English).

  • a very big staff
  • two staves are joined by a brace
  • three staves are joined by a brace
  • four staves are joined by a brace
  • it depends


How do you read staff music?

Music notes on staves are read from left to right, just like a book.

  • from up to bottom
  • from bottom to up
  • from left to right
  • from right to left

External links to learn more about :

1 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staff_(music)
2 - https://www.dolmetsch.com/musictheory1.htm
3 - https://musicterms.artopium.com/s/Staff.htm


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