Understanding music notation for piano, guitar and drums

Piano music notation

Historically, modern music notation was created for keyboard instruments like piano. Notation is displayed on 2 staffs (or staves), one with a treble cleffs for the right hand and one with a bass cleff for the left hand. Middle C (261.626Hz) which is roughly in the middle of the piano keyboard and is shown between the two staffs.

Guitar Music Notation

For guitar music, it is not necessary to show left and right hand staffs since your left and right hands have specific jobs, i.e. picking strings with your right and pressing on the fretboard with your left (unless you are left handed, or Eddie Van Halen). So it is usual to display guitar music on one staff only, using the treble cleff (or bass cleff for bass guitar). However, middle C (261.626Hz) on a guitar is roughly in the middle of the guitar note range, so displaying middle C int the standard position, i.e. below the treble cleff, would result in many notes being displayed below the staff lines, which would look ugly and inconvenient to read. .

For this reason, it is normal in guitar music to display middle C one octave higher than normal position, i.e. between the 3rd and 4th lines up on the treble cleff.

Also, because the guitar range does not comfortably fit on one staff, there is an added notation, 8va, which is used to show that a whole range of notes is played one octave higher or lower than drawn.

Drum Music Notation

Drums and other percussive instruments do not have notes. Therefor the position of the “note” on the staff line is somewhat arbitrary. Drum staff do not use cleffs, instead they show two vertical lines.By convention (in the U.S. and U.K), the snare drum will be displayed where the C note normally lives, the bass drum on the bottom line (E) and the cymbals on the top line (F).

Since drums are played with both hands and feet, the direction of the tail (up or down) is often used to indicate the hands or feet, hands being tails up and feet, tails down (but this is not always the case and in TabTrax it is configurable). In any case, drum music display is a little different to other instruments because the tails up notes and the tails down notes are often independent of each other. In piano music, there are 2 staves, one for right hand and one for left, in drum music there is only one stave so by convention, tails up notes are used for hands and tails down for feet and just like in piano music, they are independent of each other.

Please stay tune for more on this exciting subject when i have more time to write.

Leave a Reply