Clairnote has a “chromatic” staff where each of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale has its own vertical position on the staff, either on a line or in one of three positions in the space between the lines.

Chromatic scale on a Clairnote staff

On a chromatic staff the intervals between notes are clear because the distance between them is always proportional to their difference in pitch.  The hollow and solid pattern of the note heads also helps to make these interval relationships more apparent.  This is illustrated and discussed on the Scales page, the Intervals page, the 6-6 Pitch Pattern page, and briefly on the home page.

The pairs of two lines that make up the staff always represent the same two notes, (E and G-sharp/A-flat).  The repeating line pattern corresponds with the repetition of the octave.  This makes it easy to identify notes because notes an octave apart always fall on “the same” line or space.  What looks like a “missing” middle line is actually an “internal” ledger line that represents C.

Octaves in Clairnote music notation

Clairnote’s “Vertically Compressed” Chromatic Staff

One of the only disadvantages of a chromatic staff is that it takes up more vertical space on the page compared to a traditional “diatonic” staff because there are twelve notes per octave rather than seven.  The distance between any two given notes becomes greater, both physically and symbolically with the number of intervening staff positions.  This can make it harder to easily recognize larger intervals and tell them apart.

Clairnote addresses this by spacing staff lines a major third apart and through “vertical compression” of the staff, allowing vertically adjacent notes to overlap to a greater extent than they do on a traditional staff. The hollow and solid (6-6) note head pattern also helps by making it easy to differentiate adjacent notes.

The following image shows three different staves with the same one-octave harmonic intervals (E to E and F to F).

Vertical Compression of Clairnote Staff

On the “uncompressed” chromatic staff (far right) the adjacent notes overlap the same amount as on a standard staff (far left), so an octave spans 12/7 (or 1.714…) times as much space as an octave on a standard staff. (Because there are 12 staff positions per octave instead of 7.)  On the compressed Clairnote staff adjacent notes overlap more, resulting in an octave that’s only 9/7 (1.285…) times the size of an octave on a standard staff.

In more detail, the distance between the midpoints of adjacent notes on the compressed Clairnote staff is 3/4 of what it is on a standard staff. The relative size of the octave is thus 3/4 (the distance between adjacent notes) times 12/7 (the ratio of the number of notes per octave on the staff) which is 36/28 or 9/7.

Here is another image that adds a hypothetical chromatic staff that has been compressed further (too far…) so that an octave spans the exact same vertical extent as on a standard staff.

Vertical Compression of Clairnote Staff

This hypothetical staff is still physically larger than the standard staff even though an octave spans the same physical distance.  This is because the Clairnote staff covers a greater pitch range from its bottom line to its top line, from E to G# (16 semitones).  The standard staff spans from E to F (13 semitones) in treble clef, or G to A (14 semitones) in bass clef.  The image shows that part of the larger size of the standard Clairnote staff is due to this greater pitch range of the Clairnote staff.

In short, the vertical compression of the Clairnote staff allows it to take up less space on the page.  That makes music easier to read, especially larger intervals.  (This “vertical compression” approach has also been used by John Keller in his Express Stave system that he introduced in 2005, and by Jan Braunstein in his Chromatic Lyre Notation.  Some notation systems like Twinline and TwinNote  use different note head shapes as another way to achieve a vertically compressed chromatic staff.)

Staves Spanning More Than Two Octaves

The default Clairnote staff spans two octaves (from the first ledger line below the staff to the first ledger line above it).  Staves with greater pitch ranges can be used as needed, depending on the range of the music and/or the instrument. A one octave staff can even be used, for example when teaching younger children.


Piano music can be written on a continuous four-octave Clairnote staff like the one shown above, or on a “grand staff” with two separate staves (spanning two octaves each), one for the left hand and one for the right, as in traditional music notation.

Guitar music is usually written on a three-octave Clairnote staff.  The notes are played as written.  (Music for guitar in traditional notation is typically written in treble clef, but the notes are played an octave lower than they are written.)

If the music extends above or below the staff then ledger lines are used as in traditional notation. To avoid having too many ledger lines the Clairnote staff can be temporarily extended one octave up or down.

How Does Learning the Clairnote Staff Compare with Learning the Traditional Staff?

Consider the following crude quantitative comparison.  On a standard staff there are only seven staff positions per octave to learn (disregarding key signatures and accidental signs for the moment), but there are basically thirteen positions on the staff to learn (five lines, four spaces, plus one space and one ledger line above and below the staff).  And those thirteen positions are different for each clef.  Someone learning to play piano effectively has to learn to read twenty six unique staff positions.  On Clairnote’s staff there are twelve note positions per octave rather than seven, but because the staff’s line pattern repeats with each octave, those twelve positions are the only ones you need to learn.  (See also Clefs.)

Next, check out how easy it is to see the interval patterns of scales in Clairnote.

Next: Scales