Piano Note and Length of Stem

Question: Mr. Frantz,

I’m so glad I found your website. It is very professional and beautiful – obviously a lot of work and thought went into it. The video segments on the website are terrific. You have a comfortable presence in front of a camera and a very pleasant voice and delivery.

I ordered your course How to Read Sheet Music and couldn’t wait for the DVD to arrive before using the workbook.

In the first three exercises, I was excited to discover that the stem length of each note was exactly one octave. In other words if the note head was on C, then the opposite end of the stem was on C also.

When I got to Exercise 4, my theory fell apart as the stem for the C that is two ledger lines below the bass clef goes up 8 notes to D, the middle line.

Please help me understand why the stems aren’t the same length. It would be so consistent and helpful if they were.


– Clifford J. Smith (Logan, Utah, USA)

Albert’s reply: You’re exceptionally observant, Cliff! The stem lengths have to do with a rule of music notation that states that the stems of notes on ledger lines must reach the middle staff line.

Normally, stems are exactly one octave in length:

Combining these two rules, if the stem of a note on a ledger line is drawn one octave in length and the stem does not reach the middle staff line, then it is extended to that staff line:

Thanks very much for investing in the course and for your very kind words about the site. They’re very sincerely appreciated. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

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