Classical Music: Staff Notation

It is a confusion of lines, a series of baffling symbols – not able to be understood or deciphered. You think it is perhaps a riddle, meant to be solved only by those with far greater brilliance than yourself. It means nothing. It represents nothing. And you gladly look away, happy to offer focus to more important things. You’ll leave this puzzle for others to solve… and they do. The pieces you could not shape into an image are suddenly offered as music. They lead instruments to songs, carving out melodies both classic and surreal. They are perfect. They are mastered. They are staff notations.

To those unfamiliar with classical music, these symbols seem to be little more than ink splatters, the mistakes of artists. They are instead, however, representations of how notes are to be performed. It is through them that symphonies are created, with every instrument following the flow.

Composed of five lines (with four spaces set between), staff notations offer the rules of an individual piece. They explain how each sound is to be played – defining pitch for every note. They also tell each musician when those notes are to be given, providing the timing for every song. To the untrained eye they seem nonsensical, a jumble of letters and sways. But to those who have been taught to read classical music they are instead the formation of a melody.

And those melodies have been recognized since the 12th century. Though music had long since existed before then, charting how each piece was to be performed was not a common practice until the 12th century. As the use of sound to enhance the religious experience became common, instrumentals had to be written down to ensure they were kept uniform. This led to the invention of the staff notation and the future accessibility of songs.

Those without the invaluable classical music understanding may think these notes to be without purpose. They do, however, turn ink into a tangible song. And this is a vital thing.