The basic staff consists of three lines. The middle line represents D, while the top and bottom lines represent G#/Ab. Notehead color corresponds to the 7-5 pattern of the piano key colors, with ‘sharps and flats’ being black, and naturals white. Between any two adjacent lines there are five elevations at which notes can be placed. The white notes B and F each sit midway between two lines, touching neither, and may be further identified by having a center dash or spot. The remaining notes all touch a line, either ‘lightly’ or with a slight overlap. These notes are distinguished by their notehead color, and in handwritten form no distinction in vertical position is required. Keller has aligned the staff with the 7-5 keyboard pattern and its two centers of symmetry, D and G#/Ab. This gives a symmetrical pattern of black and white notes around each line. By enclosing the white key set ABCDEFG, the staff resembles the traditional bass clef, but with two lines omitted.
In this first version of his notation, Keller used the three traditonal clefs to indicate registers: bass, treble and alto clefs indicated lower A to G, higher A to G and middle A to G respectively.
Rhythm notation is the same as in traditional notation, except that half notes (minims) and whole notes (semibreves) have a short vertical line on each side of the notehead. This is visually similar to a double-whole note (breve) in traditional notation. It is necessary in order to distinguish half notes from quarter notes (crotchets) since black/solid and white/hollow noteheads are used for pitch.
The pitch range can extend to two octaves through the use of D ledger lines a tritone above or below the one-octave staff. This ledger line appears for the five notes: C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, and E. Pitch ranges of three or more octaves can be achieved by vertically “stacking” standard one-octave staves, spacing them an octave apart, with the usual ledger line representing D occurring half way between them (see links to manuscript paper PDFs below).
Express Stave has an accompanying note naming scheme that retains the traditional names for the notes A B C D E F G, but introduces new names for the other five “black key” notes: H I J K L. The staff line for G#/Ab is then called L, and it ‘links’ each ‘register’ spanned by the staff, the set of twelve notes from A to L:
A – H – B – C – I – D – J – E – F – K – G – L
Source: John Keller. First introduced in November 2005, revised December 2007, 6-6 jazz font version introduced February 2009, reverse-color version introduced January 2010. (In Keller’s original version of Express Stave of November 2005, the top and bottom lines representing G#/Ab were bold. A dotted line representing “middle” D was added a tritone above the staff (for a bass clef register) or below the staff (for a treble clef register). Half notes were indicated by a double stem instead of a different notehead. Keller changed his system to its current form in December of 2007, partly because of the difficulty of displaying bold lines, dashed lines, or double stems in Finale software.)
Similar notations: Diatonic Twinline Notation
Video Tutorial on YouTube: Music Theory and Express Stave Notation
Musical works in Express Stave are available on the Wiki
Other musical works are available from John Keller upon request.