THEORY TIPS – Part 1: Notation Location

This is the first of my posts on Theory Tips. I hope to put up one each week or so. Like and comment if you find them helpful. If you have any questions or suggestions on theory topics, please put them in the comments too. I’ll try to answer them in coming installments 🙂

Today’s post is about writing music, specifically, “Where does everything in a music score go?”

Here are 5 questions and answers, accompanied by illustrations:

1. First things first –
Clefs, Key-signature, Time-signature

Q: Which do you write first, clef? Time-signature? Key-signature?
A: Remember this order: CKT = Clef ~ Key-signature ~ Time- signature. It follows the alphabetical order! 🙂
* The clef and key-signature are written on every line of music, but the time-signature is only in the beginning of the music (and wherever there’s a change in time)



Stem Directions2. Stem directions –

Q: Where do the stems go, on the notes?
A: Remember “pond” – When the note-head is above the middle line of the stave/staff, the stem goes down (on the left of the head, like “p”) and when the note-head is below the middle line, the stem goes up (on the right of the head, like “d”).

Notes on the middle line can have stems going up or down.

3. Stem directions of beamed notes – Stems for beamed notes

Q: What happens to stems when there’s a mixture of ups and downs in a group of notes which are to be beamed together?
A: Firstly, majority wins 🙂 Next, notes which are further from the middle line of the stave are more “stubborn” and will win.


Dots and flags4. Dots and flags –
Q: Where do dots and quaver “flags” go?
A: Dots always go on the right side of the note-head. The dot for a space note goes into the same space, but for a line note, put the dot on the space above it. Exception: in part-writing, the lower note of two parts sharing a stave, has its dot on the space below!
A: “Flags” for quavers (eighth notes) and semiquavers (16th notes) always go on the right side, regardless of the stem direction.


5. Slurs and ties – 

Slurs and tiesQ: Where do we draw slurs and ties?
A: Usually, at the note-heads.
If there’s a group of notes with mixed stem directions, draw the slur above the stave.
In part-writing, slurs and ties are drawn on the outside of each stave.

Slurs and ties, parts








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