Introducing the Staff and the Clef
It was in the Middle Ages that people first began to think of using lines to represent
musical notes. The very first systems used 11 lines. Why eleven ? Simple - it was the number needed
to fit all the notes the human voice could sing - from the lowest notes of the male bass
up to the highest notes of the soprano.
It was soon realised, however, that such a system was impractical - it was too difficult to
distinguish one note from another on the huge staff.
Solution to the Staff Crisis
To solve the problem, the 11-line staff made way for a variety 5-line staffs.
Each 5-line staff in itself was capable of holding the entire range of any voice.
A system of symbols known as Clefs was used to distinguish which set of five lines
was in operation and that is the system we use to this day.
A letter G over the second line from the bottom indicated the G clef. This was the
clef used by the highest 'treble' voice - its name today is the treble clef.
Similarly, a letter F over the second line from the top indicated the F clef. This staff
was used by the lowest 'bass' voices - it is of course, the bass clef.
There are many other clefs, but the two other most commonly-used clefs today are the
alto clef, used by viola players in particular:
and the tenor clef, used by trombonists and various other instruments.