I am a guitar, flute and (a long time ago) bassoon player. I can play a few things on a keyboard, badly, in short: I know how it all works. I'm trying to help teach my wife to play a harp. It has a range from C3 to C6, so when making arrangements for her, it makes sense to use staves with both clefs, like this:

Image withbBoth Clefs

However, I have so much trouble finding music and blank sheets where the clefs are aligned properly. Looking at the above image, if we place middle C in there, it isn't in the middle at all:

enter image description here

Why isn't more printed work done where the two clefs work together and actually have middle C, well, in the middle? Like this:

enter image description here

EDIT As everybody so far seems to think that I am only referring to handedness for piano as an issue, this isn't the case. I'm asking about confusing music that doesn't seem to have anything to do with what hand you use (this could be played with one hand on a harp without much difficulty), such as:

enter image description here

As you can see here: Roberto Di Marino - Celtic Suite - Flute and Harp

Unless because it's done that way on piano, so that's why and no other reason.

  • 1
    The last time I saw sheet music that looked like the last image, it made a lot of sense, but I was very unused to it.
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 21, 2017 at 1:12
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    I consider your harp example as poorly set: why use two ledger lines, if the treble clef system could accept the same e without any hassle? If chosing the beams on top, the note would magically transform to a C....
    – guidot
    Dec 21, 2017 at 7:50
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    In many, many years of being associated with music this is the first time I have encountered the idea that middle C is called 'middle' because of the way that it is notated. I have always thought - perhaps wrongly - that it was the C nearest the middle of the range of notes commonly used in musical pieces.
    – JimM
    Dec 21, 2017 at 11:41
  • @guidot Because the clef distribution better illustrates note-distribution for the hands (this is for harp, after all). Dec 21, 2017 at 15:19
  • What you propose is essentially an 11-line staff. It's been tried: musescore.org/en/node/25196
    – Mirlan
    Aug 31, 2018 at 2:03

6 Answers 6


Relative to the Grand Staff, it's important to think of "Middle C" as a concept more than a literal visual expression. Here's why:

Let's say you have a "grand" staff using 11 lines (5 for each staff + center for C):

enter image description here

At first glance, you might think, "that's not so bad". However, once you add music, especially complicated music, this type of notation can be quite unwieldy.

So it's split into what we commonly see as the Grand Staff, which, as others have mentioned, usually relegates a hand to each staff. So, we've solved a visual problem by separating the staves with some space. But now we have another problem: what if we want to know how loud / soft to play the music?

Well, putting the dynamics on the outside of the Grand Staff is visually distracting and cumbersome: enter image description here

It is more difficult for the musician to read the music and the dynamics this way.

However, keeping dynamics and other indications between staves – for the most part – can help reduce visual clutter and lead to better reading / performance.

So, let's go back to the question:

enter image description here

**Why isn't more printed work done where the two clefs work together and actually have middle C, well, in the middle? **

In order for the staves to be exactly aligned, you'll need to sacrifice other important visual, performative, and logistical elements in the music. Using ledger lines helps us cope with this off-set. For publishers, composers, and performers, the staff spacing relative to middle C just isn't that important.

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    I think maybe you've nailed it, at least with the stuff showing up in the middle. My main instruments always put that stuff outside the staff (like chords above and volume and other notes below) so it just makes sense to me that they would go outside the staff not in the middle, regardless of whether you're playing an instrument that separates which hand does what or not. Dec 21, 2017 at 6:39
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    Sorry to nitpick but on your imagined "Grand Staff" of 11 lines shouldn't the clef be on the space below? I thought that it indicated where the note G was
    – JimM
    Dec 21, 2017 at 11:45
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    @JimM Oh probably, I actually probably just should've taken the clef out altogether, I really wasn't thinking about it; spent about 30 seconds in Finale just adding extra lines on to make my point. Dec 21, 2017 at 15:22
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    I'm actually glad they don't do an 11 line version. It's hard to see 11 lines and something on one of those lines and know, "that's the 7th line down" right off. With only 5, your brain can translate it easily enough. Dec 21, 2017 at 17:50
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    @MarkOrmston Yes, 5 is not arbitrary. It actually comes from a monk - Guido d'Arezzo - who would use his hands to teach others how to sing the chant. 5 fingers = 5 staff lines. Clefs were invented to try to keep notes on the staff so they were easier to read. Nowadays we use several less clefs than was standard practice then. Dec 21, 2017 at 17:54

Because the the bigger point behind the grand staff for piano is to have one for each hand rather than show an absolute note position on the instrument.

It's not too uncommon to see two treble or two bass clefs in the grand staff. For example the way Imagine by John Lennon is notated for piano using two bass clefs.

There are also other modifiers that can make the top or bottom staff different like octave clefs, ottava alta marks, and ottava bassa marks.

It's useful to teach the grand staff the way you mentioned, but in practice when playing keeping them their own systems is important.


The top staff is for the right hand, and the bottom staff is for the left hand. As Dom says, you could have two treble or two bass clefs, but even with one of each as pictured, there would be severe problems with having the staffs this close. It's common for the left hand notes to go several ledger lines above the staff, or for the right hand notes to go below. We need the space to see this.


Using multiple staves is meant to separate multiple logical voices, or parts, within the music. Consider that there may be more than two voices for a given piece of music (SATB is an example; soprano, alto, tenor, and bass).

People have mentioned that one staff is for the left hand and one is for the right - but this is an oversimplification which leads to questions like the ones you asked. When you think of music in terms of more than two voices, the idea of aligning the staves becomes more difficult to implement.


Another thought - A Grand Staff is two individual and different staves joined - a treble staff and a bass staff. There is no need for alignment because a Grand Staff is not a single thing - it is and remains two separate things. As long as the leger line for treble middle C is below the staff at a staff lines distance and the bass middle c is above the bass staff at a staff lines distance - then the correct spacing is being observed. As well as the other comments about multiple leger lines and handedness, expression marks etc needed to have space to operate.


As far as finding staves printed as you would like, they probably don't exist. However, it is quite easy to make up some of your own, as in your third example. Once one sheet is prepared, it's simple to copy others off. That would then be easy to play harp music from. You'd probably end up writing out by hand, but that's pretty well what I do for drum music for students, and isn't particularly onerous. Or come up with something like an alto clef, putting a middle note from the harp at a convenient place on a single staff - like several other instruments have done.

  • I made exactly that, which is what I used to make the image. I was just curious why I couldn't find one pre-made anywhere. Dec 21, 2017 at 17:43

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