I am doing research on music history and I cannot find information between the four line chant staff and the grand staff. Also, I do believe that at different times in its development the staff actually had 12, 13, 14, and 15 lines. Where can I find proof or evidence of this?

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    16th century keyboard music was often written on a 6-line staff, e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staff_(music)#/media/…. For your "12-15 lines" are you getting confused with lute tablature, which sometimes used a separate line for each unfretted bass string? But trying to read from 15 lines doesn't sound a very practical idea.
    – user19146
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 3:30
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    You're not thinking of the grand staff as an 11-line staff, are you? There's no real historical basis for that. Keyboard music has been notated using two staves, one for each hand, for centuries (or three, for organ). If you're looking for a gradual increase from four to 11 lines, you won't find it; it was more like an increase to 5 lines, and then a doubling. See, for examples, google.com/#q=early+keyboard+notation
    – phoog
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 7:45
  • I often explain to students that it started out as an 11 line staff, which was found to be unwieldly, so the middle line (floating C) was omitted. It may be apocryphal, but it makes a lot of sense when trying to understand treble and bass.
    – Tim
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 8:52
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    The "[citation needed]" cliche applies here. Who or what suggested to you that there were such large linesets? This excellent history of notation makes no mention whatsoever of such: cartusiana.org/files/Origins%20Musical%20Staff.pdf Commented May 19, 2016 at 11:40
  • @Tim yes, it's apocryphal.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 4, 2020 at 20:05

1 Answer 1


I do not believe, except maybe in rare instances, that staffs that large were used. You may be thinking of Lute tabs.

All early music scores were written by hand. It's very time consuming to do this and they were after the most efficient use of space. This is why the 4 line staff with clefs and ligatures were used.

I would start, of course, start with Guido of Arezzo (inventor of staff, I went to his house once!). His treatise: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micrologus

A really great resource for notation, early music, and its evolution in a cultural and historical context is Richard Taruskin's "MUSIC FROM THE EARLIEST NOTATIONS TO THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY". I'm not a huge fan of his 20th century analysis, but as a former performer, scholar, and interpreter of early music, this one is hard to beat.

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