This lesson refers to the keyboard reconstruction question (Q2. ABRSM Grade 8 Music Theory).



It is quite likely that the extract will contain a change of clefs at some point – so be vigilant! Although the normal set up for piano staves is treble clef for the right hand and bass clef for the left, in fact either clef can be used for either hand.

The clef used will give you a strong clue about the register of the notes you are supposed to be writing. For example, if the left hand moves into treble clef, it would not be logical to write some low-pitched music with several ledger lines, which would be better suited to the bass clef.


Ensure that the stems are the right way up for your notes. Notes above the middle line should have their stems pointing downwards, and vice versa (unless there are two parts on one stave).

When a group of notes is beamed together, find the note which is furthest from the middle line, and use the stem direction of that note for the whole beamed group.

stem direction


When writing chords, make sure that the notes (and any accidentals) are not squashed together.

The direction of the stem is normally that of the note in the chord which is furthest from the middle line.

If a chord contains a 2nd, write the higher note on the right hand of the stem, and the lower note on the left. The stem will always be in the middle, between the notes which form an interval of a second.  

notation of harmonic 2nds

For chords with accidentals, the top accidental is normally written closest to the chord, followed by the lowest accidental, which can be displaced to the left if necessary. Any further accidentals can be moved further out to the left to make enough room to see them clearly.

In this example, the top (A#) accidental is placed first, close to the A. This is followed by the C#, which is moved slightly out to the left, to avoid merging with the A#. Finally, the F# is placed so that it also does not touch either of the other accidentals.  

notation of chords accidentals