I'm learning to play the piano and I'm slightly confused after reading this:


Is the 1st note in the treble clef the same as the 8th notes in the bass clef? And if so, is that considered to be "middle C" on a piano?

Also, wouldn't there typically be more notes in between the bass clef and treble clef? Why are they missing in this case? If they normally show up, then where is "middle C" on such a scale?

3 Answers 3


Here are two pictures that should explain everything.

enter image description here

enter image description here

To your question, "Also, wouldn't there typically be more notes in between the bass clef and treble clef? Why are they missing in this case?" I should explain that in typesetting sheet music, the amount of space between the treble and bass clef of the piano is variable, but the number of notes between them are not. More or less space can be put between the staves to allow for slurs or ties or other musical symbols or text, and to allow for the peculiarities of cross-staff notes and cross-staff beaming. Regardless of the visual appearance, technically there is only one ledger line between the staves, and on that line goes only the pitch C (or C# or Cb).

It should also be noted that the two staves are traditionally set up to separate the part played by the left hand from the part played by the right hand; the lower staff is for the left hand, the upper for the right. When the music requires both hands to be in the bass register, or both hands to be in the treble register, the two staves can use different clef signs (for instance two staves with treble clefs or two staves with bass clefs) or the notation "8va" or "8vb" can be put over certain notes to indicate that they are to be played an octave higher or lower than they appear on the staff.

When you see notes like the example below on the left, this is to indicate that the note below the treble staff is to be played with the right hand. The example on the right notates exactly the same thing, with exactly the same pitches, but using cross-staff beaming.

enter image description here

Here is an example from a Bach harpsichord concerto.

enter image description here

The two musical lines can cross from one staff to the other, but because of the cross-staff beaming and stem direction, and the lack of rests in the second measure in the bass staff, it's obvious that there are two lines played by two hands.

  • 5
    It is actually quite common to see more than one ledger line in the middle of a grand staff. As you mention, the staves are set up to separate the two hands, so when one hand needs to go into the other's territory briefly, it is done with multiple ledger lines. Extended passages would necessitate a change of clef.
    – NReilingh
    Mar 10, 2013 at 18:40
  • The two examples represent the same notes but are not really equivalent. The example on the right would, by more common conventions, indicate that the right hand was to play the D and the left hand was to play the A. The alternative to cross-staff beaming would be for the treble cleff to contain an eighth-note D followed by a rest, and the bass cleff to contain an eight-note rest followed by an A.
    – supercat
    Mar 12, 2013 at 16:17
  • Hmm. That's not how I interpret cross-staff beaming. I have always understood that because the two notes are beamed together, they are intended to be played by the same hand. See my extra example above.
    – user1044
    Mar 12, 2013 at 19:18
  • The cross-staff beaming I take to indicate that the notes belong to a single voice, not necessarily to be played by a single hand. The fingering for contrapuntal pieces is driven by practical considerations (e.g., fluidity, articulation, voicing) more than theoretical ones and can be surprisingly and confoundingly tricky in some situations. (I realize this is an old thread, but I think the point is worth making.)
    – Brian Tung
    Dec 8, 2015 at 2:09

Yes, the first note on the upper staff is the middle C, as is the 8th note on the lower staff. The hands play one octave apart.

I'm not sure what you mean by "more notes in between the bass clef and treble clef", but what's written on the web page is standard. The middle C is always one line below the lowest line in treble clef, and one line above the highest line in bass clef. This can only be modified by using special notation such as an "8" above or below the clef symbol or on "8va" or "8vb" line above or below (respectively) the modified passage.


I explain it thus : originally music was written on 11 lines, with spaces (obviously) between. This roughly approximated the range of monks etc. voices.Trouble is, it wasn't easy to read notes written near the middle , so the lines were split into 2 lots of 5. This left the notes which lived in the middle line (C) without a line of their own.It didn't matter too much - middle C was not used any more than other notes, so when it did need to be written, it was given a little line of its own - a ledger line. Then, if playing keyboard type instruments in particular, any notes in the treble clef lower than middle C would have to have extra ledger lines, which actually doubled up the lines on the stave, but denoted them to be played with the right hand.And vice versa for left hand played notes that were higher than middle C.Hope this puts it all into place, Ein Doofus.

  • 1
    It's a nice way to put everything into place but AFAIK, when people started using "lines" (at least in Europe) at around 1000AD, only one was used instead of 11.
    – nonpop
    Mar 12, 2013 at 18:49
  • And would that line have been middle C ?
    – Tim
    Mar 13, 2013 at 8:23
  • According to this it was F below middle C. There are some sources listed at the bottom.
    – nonpop
    Mar 13, 2013 at 9:04

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