About Upper & Lower Ledger Lines for the Piano

by Steven J. Miller

Written music for the piano consists of a system of two musical staves which show most of the notes playable on the piano; some music, however, reaches notes higher or lower than the staves can easily display. When this happens, the composer must use upper and lower ledger lines -- small horizontal lines that extend the staves above or below their normal ranges -- to accurately notate the music. Rather than creating a third staff, which would be confusing for pianists to read, ledger lines are used to make it simpler to read music in very high or low registers.

Great Staff

The great (or grand) staff combines the treble and bass clef staves into one compound staff, and is usually used to notate piano music. The higher notes use the treble clef staff while the lower notes use the bass clef staff. To clearly relate these notational devices to each the two staves are connected on the right side by a large bracket. Each staff has a total of five lines and four spaces; the lines and spaces are given note names to make it easier to discuss notes on the staves.

Musical Alphabet

The musical alphabet starts with A and ends on G; after reaching G, the alphabet starts over again on A. The A that occurs after G sounds twice as high as the A below it; the space between two notes with the same name is called an octave. Treble clef note names start with E on the bottom line and then move from line to space through the musical alphabet -- the first space is an F, the second line is a G and so on -- while the bass clef begins on G. "Middle" C lies on both the first ledger line below the treble clef and the first ledger line above the bass clef.

Upper Ledger Lines

Each staff has five lines; in order to add more pitches above a staff, additional lines are added by placing a short line -- just enough to hold one note -- above the staff, thereby extending the staff upward. The first ledger line above the treble clef is an A, placing a note on top of the line yields a B; the second ledger line is a C, and so forth, continuing with higher pitches by adding additional ledger lines.

Lower Ledger Lines

Lower ledger lines work on the same principles; a note directly below the bass clef staff is an F, so the first ledger line below the staff is an E. Placing a note directly underneath the first ledger line yields a D. The ledger lines continue downwards in this way indefinitely.

About the Author

Steven Miller graduated with a master's degree in 2010. He writes for several companies including Lowe's and IBM. He also works with local schools to create community gardens and learn environmentally responsible gardening. An avid gardener for 15 years, his experience includes organic gardening, ornamental plants and do-it-yourself home projects.

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