The stem rule tells us which direction the stem of a music note must be written on the music staff.
You may have noticed that sometimes you see stems going up for some notes and going down for others.
This is not just random. There are two compositional rules musicians follow when writing notes on the staff.
If the notehead of a music note is on the third line of the staff or above, the stems must go down on the left. (If you’re not sure what the third line is, read more here about the lines and spaces.)
Write the stem attached to the left side of the note and point it down below the notehead.
If the notehead is below the third line, the stem goes up on the right. In other words, attach the stem to the right side of the note and have it travel upward above the notehead.
Q. Does it matter what the clef sign is?
A. Nope. The same rule applies to all clef signs. This includes treble clef, bass clef and the C-clef’s.
Q. Does the direction of the stem effect the note value?
A. No. It doesn’t matter what direction the stem is going. You will still treat the note the same.
Q. Is this rule universal?
A. Yes. This same procedure of writing music is followed all over the world.
That’s it! Those are your two basic rules for why you sometimes see the stem of a note pointing up, and other times down.
Just remember that notes on the third line and above have stems down on the left and anything below that is up on the right.
Really, the stem rule is pretty easy to memorize. In fact, why don’t you try doing that right now?
Draw yourself a quick five line staff on a scrap piece of paper and try your hand it. Practicing this a few times is a great way to remember it.
Helpful Music Theory Guides
This foldable 8x10 inch music theory cheat sheet is an excellent quick reference guide when you need to find the answer fast. The side 3-hole punch allows you to keep it in a 3-ring binder. It is sturdy and folds out featuring music theory and notation on the front and music history on the back.
A practical pocket-size music theory dictionary and music notation reference guide that is perfect for all musicians from beginner to professional.
A convenient music theory book that is small enough to fit in your pocket, backpack, or instrument case. A great reference guide for all musicians at any level of music study.