How should I play two notes together on lines below the staff?

sheet music from songbook I own

  • 3
    Note that while this question is based on a misunderstanding, duplicate notes in a chord can occur, see this question. Apr 22, 2020 at 9:04
  • 4
    @Tim You might find this refresher helpful. Even if you don't need help.
    – BobRodes
    Apr 23, 2020 at 4:37
  • 1
    I now wonder how it is that Chadee identified both notes as C. I mean, if you identify a note as a C, it means you know that a note on that line is a C... and that a note not on that line isn't? I'm just curious, coming from an angle of already knowing how notation works.
    – Zachiel
    Apr 23, 2020 at 12:09
  • 3
    @Zachiel Presumably they've been taught that a note under the stave with a line through it is "middle C", without being taught why. So, naturally, putting another one there, albeit in a slightly different place, is also "middle C". I actually find this question really interesting; it's a fascinating insight into the different ways people learn at various simplification levels, and what the results of over-simplifying can be. Apr 23, 2020 at 13:46
  • O.k., so who deleted my comment? Was it flagged?
    – Tim
    Apr 24, 2020 at 14:51

5 Answers 5


Ah, that is actually two notes: 'A' and 'C'. Whenever there are notes below the normal staff, you add those lines to notate which notes they are. The notes above and below the staff are called ledger lines. If you want to figure out the notes that are below and above the staff, just cycle through the musical alphabet (A B C D E F G).

If you are trying to figure out the notes above the staff, count through the alphabet alternating from space to line (or line space) and on until you reach your note.

If you are trying to figure out a note below the staff, count the alphabet backwards. You still need to alternate from line to space while cycling through the musical alphabet. 1

Here are the notes above treble clef

Here are the notes below treble clef

Here are the notes above bass clef

Here are the notes below bass clef

Source: Here


When notes are arranged vertically like that and share the same stem, it's called a chord. In this case, the upper note of the chord is middle C, but the lower note is actually a ledger line below that - an A - they are different notes. To play this, just play both A and C at the same time.

  • At last! A simple, succinct answer that the OP might understand!
    – Laurence
    Oct 16, 2021 at 22:58
  • @LaurencePayne - maybe, but there are many who would disagree that two notes constitute a chord...
    – Tim
    Oct 17, 2021 at 7:33
  • Yes, bringing in the term 'chord' might have been Too Much Information for this purpose, just encouraging an unnecessary side argument!
    – Laurence
    Oct 17, 2021 at 10:15

there is a middle c on top of a middle c.

I think you may be confusing the general term ledger lines with the specific middle C.

The basic staves are 5 lines.

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The staves take a clef to set what letters apply to the lines and spaces. Also, scientific pitch notation adds an octave number to letters so we know exactly in which octave a tone is. The treble clef is the "G" clef setting G4 on the 2nd line and the bass clef is an "F" clef setting F3 on the 4th line.

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It may seem odd, but clefs can be put on other lines and that will change the lettering of the staff.

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Ledger lines are added to a staff to go higher or lower than the 5 lines. Ledger lines can be stacked above or below each other to go higher and higher or lower and lower to get to whatever pitch needs to be notated.

enter image description here

Another thing that can be done to notate a note that goes off of the five lines staff is to change the clef. But, clef changes can be hard to read if you don't practice a lot of reading so people try to avoid them. The cello part below shows a clef change used to avoid going 5 ledger lines above a bass staff.

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Finally, middle C is C4 and depending on the clefs used it can appear on various lines of spaces. Here is middle C on various clefs.

enter image description here

So, put that all together for your example (and add the missing clef for clarity...)

enter image description here

...rhythmically you will strike the two notes at the same time on the piano, probably using your thumb and middle finger, but I don't think the exact fingering is part of your question.

  • Great to see the "C" clefs here. And - also if it's only for completeness - these 5 clefs try to symbolize a C en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clef#C-clefs . BACH used to use the mezzo-soprano clef for his Inventions (not the modern Treble clef).
    – Wolf
    Apr 23, 2020 at 12:27
  • 1
    @Wolf actually he used the soprano clef (see imslp.org/wiki/…), which was a normal clef for the right hand of keyboard music in that time and place. The well-tempered clavier also uses that clef. The only keyboard manuscripts of Bach's that use the treble clef that I found just now in a quick search were all organ pieces.
    – phoog
    Apr 24, 2020 at 0:00
  • @phoog - absolutely thanks for pointing that out! I got lost in the C clefs and made - typical to programmers - a off-by-one error ;)
    – Wolf
    Apr 24, 2020 at 6:12
  • Never seen that 'treble clef' G4 used before. It's normally a C clef that's used. In fact, putting a C clef on the middle line pretty well covers the same range. Where did that come from?
    – Tim
    Apr 25, 2020 at 7:25
  • The one with G4 on the first line? I've seen it in a lot of music published in the 18th century, stuff available at imslp.org. I think a lot of those scores are scanned by music libraries and are not available in modern editions. Apr 27, 2020 at 15:39

After my mild diatribe - related mainly to the fact that there were't two middle C notes, I'll attempt to make amends by answering the question.

Imagine the standard grand staff, with its ten lines, split, as it is, into treble and bass clef (normally). That's how it's been for many a long century. Think about the fact that actually, middle C does not have a home. There is no permanent place to put it.

It's always had to have its own special little line - as it does go on a line - and that line is a temporary one, which goes under the treble clef. It also goes above the bass clef. It can be considered as the missing line out of a possible eleven, slap bang in the middle. Hence, middle C.

If there were eleven lines, it would be very difficult to pinpoint dots, so it's much simpler to have the staves split. Hence the two parts and a floating leger line between.

Now, we come to the crux.

Sometimes, there needs to be notes lower than middle C, written 'in' the treble clef only - as in the OP's example. That top note is obviously middle C, as pointed out. The note under it is effectively written on the top line of the bass clef, which obviously in this music is missing! So there's middle C (top note), and on that next line down there's note A. That's what it would be if it was on the non-existent top line, bass clef. As other answers point out, those leger lines can be expanded and sometimes several are used - both above or below either clef. Often it's the simplest way to portray notes whose home isn't within a stave.

  • The idea of a grand staff that was split into two smaller staves is not historical. Rather, the grand staff was developed by combining two standard staves (usually, but not always, of five lines). The use of ledger lines to extend the compass of a staff arose independently of any idea of a "grand staff"; Wikipedia notes that they were found in plainchant and polyphonic manuscripts before they found widespread use in keyboard music.
    – phoog
    Apr 24, 2020 at 0:28
  • Also it's quite common to find notes lower than middle C written in the treble staff of a grand staff because they are to be played by the right hand.
    – phoog
    Apr 24, 2020 at 0:29
  • @phoog - I understand it was never eleven lines, but the mental picture has helped my students over many years. Ten lines and one floater is actually what it is. I hope it helps OP too. True about a reason that A is written in treble clef - it makes it clear it's intended to be played using r.h.
    – Tim
    Apr 24, 2020 at 8:09
  • That the mental picture helps is another matter entirely. It helps me most when I am reading a C clef, because the grand staff is long since second nature, but C clefs require a bit of effort.
    – phoog
    Apr 25, 2020 at 4:14

The main issue which I think people have missed here is two-fold. Firstly was it a mistake? And secondly; is it indicative of a lack of musical notation and/or theoretical knowledge?

Let me explain what I think the two possibilities are as I see them:

Firstly, the contributor may be auto-didactorily taught! So many learn from YouTube these days; notation isn't taught. So many feel you don't have to read notation. An outdated concept for Milennials and some others who were never fortunate enough to learn as we clearly were.

The other possibility is: he/she may have seen two middle C's written together as a unison and didn't know how to play it!

Highlights the importance of notation and theory. Moreover, the need for this YouTube self-learning to be totally banned and music theory and instrumental teaching to be more accessible! Our role should be to teach rather than mock and belittle for the deficit in knowledge and to stop learning being so undermined.


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