Standard piano music sheets contain G and F clefs, which can display comfortably (without using a lot of ledger lines) around 48 keys C2-C6.

I wonder how people write the very high/low notes, i.e., C1 or C8? Thanks.

  • In practice, I've seen a lot of professionally engraved and sold piano sheet music use a lot of ledger lines to denote C1 (often but not always with C2). – Dekkadeci Nov 8 '20 at 13:58

You can write the Octave Sign that can indicate octave up or down for the really high and low notes. So, for instance, you can if you want to notate a note an octave up from.

So instead of this...

Example 1


Example 2

  • 5
    15 rather than 16! va for up, vb for down. – Tim Apr 28 '16 at 13:52

Another option is to use a transposed G or F clef:

Treble 8

  • 2
    This might be "correct" according to some reference (which nobody stated) but it's living dangerously to use only a transposed clef for keyboard instruments which don't usually use them, like piano. And for instruments like celesta that do use octave transpositions, the number is often omitted from the clef because everybody knows what the notation means. For example neither Finale nor Sibelius (both professional-standard notation programs) add the "8" to guitar notation by default, though of course they play back the score an octave lower than written. – user19146 Apr 28 '16 at 22:21

The preferred method depends on the instrument in question. The violin and the clarinet, for examples, are accustomed to playing a couple octaves' worth of ledger lines above the trebleclef. Cello parts may have a stack of ledger lines, or they may jump from bass to tenor or even treble clef, or get annotated "8va" .

I once had to explain to a music major (underclass) that, unlike a piano score, woodwinds did not want to see notes progressing down from the treble to the bass clef, but rather just use ledger lines below the staff :-) .


Another way is to use ledger lines. Ledger lines and different clefs (by octave or other transposition) are all common. One (supposedly) uses whatever is easiest to read.

A related complication is that some instruments are transposing; what you read (native to that instrument) isn't the note that sounds. (A clarinet or trumpet plays what that instrument calls a "C" and out comes a Bb or perhaps and A.)

  • This isn't really related to the question. – Carl Witthoft Apr 29 '16 at 11:16
  • @CarlWitthoft I disagree. It is related to the question. But since the question is explicitly asking for a solution other than one using ledger lines, it certainly doesn't answer the question. – phoog Nov 7 '20 at 19:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.