Written sheet music doesn't just tell you the tempo and rhythm of the music. It also tells you the pitch.

Staffs and Clefs

Notes are written on a staff. A staff is a set of five horizontal lines that cross the page:


There are different staves, called "clefs," to show you where in the musical range you are in.

The bass clef is written for instruments that have low pitches like the bass or the tuba. The bass clef is indicated by placing this symbol at the beginning of the staff:

Bass Clef

The treble clef is for instruments with a higher range like the violin and the E9 and C6 necks of the pedal steel guitar. The treble clef is indicated by placing this symbol at the beginning of the staff:

Treble Clef

Those instruments where each hand sounds a different range of notes use both clefs, like the piano and the harp.

Piano Clef

There are other clefs as well - for very high pitch instruments or for instruments with middle range tones - but those are outside our scope here. The E9 neck of the pedal steel guitar requires the treble clef, so that will be our focus of study.

Notes on the Staff

Pitch is indicated by the location of the note on the staff. Here is the staff with the note names placed at the left. The lines are read from the bottom: EGBDF. The spaces are FACE.

Notes on Staff

Notes can be written above or below the line if the pitch exceeds the boundaries of the clef. We add notes by adding ledger lines to indicate their relative position.

Ledger Lines

The lowest open B note on the E9 neck of the steel guitar (which is played on the tenth string with no pedals or bar), is found here on the staff:

Lowest Note

The highest note on the steel guitar depends on how high you can get the bar on the 3rd string. But at the 25th fret of the 3rd string the note is an A and it is marked here on the staff:

Highest Note

That means that every note you play on the steel guitar is going to fall somewhere between that low B and the high A. That makes the instrument seem a little less complex, doesn't it?

PSG Range


The placement of the notes on a staff doesn't yield all notes in our music system though. The only notes on the staff lines and spaces are CDEFGA and B. These are called the "naturals".

But there are also notes between some of them called "accidentals".

Here are all the notes in our 12-note musical system:
C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G# - A - A# - B

The sharp symbol (#) means to play the note above the one that is named. So C# is the note above C.

A flat (b) note is one that is played one note below the one that is named.

The sharp notes can also be called by their "flat" (b) names:

So... all the notes in our musical system can look like this:
C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G# - A - A# - B

or like this:
C - Db - D - Eb - E - F - Gb - G - Ab - A - Bb - B.

Notice there are no accidental notes in between E and F or between B and C. There is a reason for that which I will not go into here.

Now, the accidentals on the staff are placed before the note, so a G# looks like this:

Sharp Note

An Ab, which sounds exactly the same as a G#, looks like this:

Flat Note

A natural sign is used when a previous sharp note or flat note is cancelled:

Natural Sign

In the first example the Ab is cancelled and is returned to a natural A by the natural symbol. In the second example the G# is made into a G by the natural symbol.

Time and Rhythm on the Staff

Notes written above and below each other are played simultaneously. Notes written next to each other are played over time. The rhythm of the notes will indicate how long each note is to be played (see sections on Time and Rhythm ).

Rest Values

Just like with recognizing rhythms, recognizing pitches quickly takes time and practice. Rest assured that much of this website is devoted to improving the sheet music literacy of steel guitarists.


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