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Thread: How to get more familiar with C clefs

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    Question How to get more familiar with C clefs

    The C clefs always trip me up. I constantly have to think:

    Where is the C line? Which clef is it closer to? Treble or Bass?
    As a result I always think of the C clefs as being relative clefs. Alto clef being relative to treble clef and tenor clef being relative to bass clef respectively. So I constantly transpose back to treble clef or bass clef. This partly comes from me being a pianist and thus only coming across these C clefs in scores involving viola, bassoon, and trombone which are usually massive symphonies.

    Anyway, this relative clef thing isn't really working to get me familiar with the C clefs and what if I want to compose a piece with a bassoon solo? Most bassoon solos are in tenor clef. Very few are actually fully in bass clef and likewise, almost none are in treble clef even though the treble register is part of the bassoon's range. Thus, if I'm writing for bassoon, I can focus more on bass clef when it is in harmony with another instrument such as a piano but for solos, most important clef would be the tenor clef.

    So, if relative clefs aren't working to get me familiar with C clefs, then how else am I going to get familiar with them because I'm not a violist or a bassoonist so I can't just read a note in alto clef or tenor clef and automatically know what note it is. I only automatically know the notes in treble clef and bass clef.

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    Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Caters,

    You've implied the answer already. If you have already learnt to read treble and bass, then you can learn to read the c clefs. Write out music you have into the c clefs for practice, do this regularly and you'll soon become fluent with them. Next you'll want to transpose horn parts down a fifth at sight..... Remember too that if you master the tenor clef, you will have a better grasp of transposition for bflat instruments if you replace the tenor clef with the g clef.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Apr-24-2019 at 07:52.

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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    I think of the Alto clef as right between both treble and bass, and the lines and spaces are the same from middle C. So I only have to get used to the offset, rather than relearning the positions relative to top and bottom
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Senior Member Vasks's Avatar
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    How interesting! When the term "C clef" is the topic, one poster thinks tenor clef and another alto clef.
    "Music in any generation is not what the public thinks of it but what the musicians make of it"....Virgil Thomson

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    Senior Member Vasks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by caters View Post
    Anyway, this relative clef thing isn't really working to get me familiar with the C clefs and what if I want to compose a piece with a bassoon solo? Most bassoon solos are in tenor clef. Very few are actually fully in bass clef and likewise, almost none are in treble clef even though the treble register is part of the bassoon's range.
    Lots of bassoonist post at TC, but let me say that bassoon uses lots of bass clef except when they stay for a while in their stratosphere; then use the tenor clef. They DO NOT use ever treble.
    "Music in any generation is not what the public thinks of it but what the musicians make of it"....Virgil Thomson

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    Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vasks View Post
    How interesting! When the term "C clef" is the topic, one poster thinks tenor clef and another alto clef.
    Strangely enough Vasks, I can easily sight read the alto clef and can "see" horn and sax parts at concert pitch whilst reading scores, (yes even the alto sax!) but there is always a half second hesitation with the tenor clef. Maddening really, but it only affects my instantaneous reading of scores, not when writing. I need more practice too in order to overcome what might be termed cleflexia....or perhaps just another glass of wine instead because it's not the worst problem one could have...
    Last edited by mikeh375; Apr-25-2019 at 10:53.

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    Senior Member Vasks's Avatar
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    ...............

    "Music in any generation is not what the public thinks of it but what the musicians make of it"....Virgil Thomson

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    Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Nice one Vasks.
    How do you keep your violin from being stolen?
    Put it in a viola case...

    (with apologies to the OP)
    Last edited by mikeh375; Apr-25-2019 at 15:56.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikeh375 View Post
    Nice one Vasks.
    How do you keep your violin from being stolen?
    Put it in a viola case...

    (with apologies to the OP)
    You don't have to apologize to me. Besides, I too have troubles with certain transpositions. The easy ones for me are Bb and octave. With Bb I just have to think 1 whole step higher so if I am wanting the clarinet to play a C in concert pitch, I would write a D. And the octave transposition is very obvious from the instrument itself(piccolo, an octave up from notation, contrabass, an octave down from notation). Tricky ones for me are F and G mainly(not in terms of the note names but rather whether it goes up or down to reach it because there are instruments in every combination of up/down and F/G in terms of transposition).

    And then there are the clefs outside of treble and bass which are tricky for me because I'm a pianist so I pretty much never come across those clefs outside of orchestral music.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vasks View Post
    Lots of bassoonist post at TC, but let me say that bassoon uses lots of bass clef except when they stay for a while in their stratosphere; then use the tenor clef. They DO NOT use ever treble.
    There are some times when bassoon parts are written in treble clef....not too often, but occasionally.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Heck148 View Post
    There are some times when bassoon parts are written in treble clef....not too often, but occasionally.
    Of course, I too have seen it, but here's what Adler says in his Orchestration book: "The bassoon is notated in the bass clef, but when ledger lines begin to accumulate, the tenor clef is used." That's all he says. Nothing at all about treble.

    And the Kennan Orchestration book says "When the part goes too high to be comfortably written in the bass clef, the tenor may be used". Again that's all that is said about clefs. I do find his use of the phrase "may be used" interesting as it suggests rarely using it.

    In the end, almost all composers and arrangers today don't use the treble ever. And with caters being a beginner I see no reason to give wiggle room to consider using treble clef.
    "Music in any generation is not what the public thinks of it but what the musicians make of it"....Virgil Thomson

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    It's true. treble clef is quite uncommon in bassoon parts, but pops up especially in Prokofieff.

    Here's a challenge: these are the four solo voice parts from the Beethoven 9th. The three lower voices are in alto, tenor, and bass clef. Look at the soprano. Don't see that much. Just try to play all four voices, up to tempo, on piano. You don't have time to transpose or think - you just have to read it and let the fingers move.
    Beethoven.PNG

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    Goddamn C clefs....as if we don't have enough to learn to be decent at music. I'll pass on learning to sight read the soprano clef if you don't mind mbhaub...
    Last edited by mikeh375; Apr-29-2019 at 15:29.

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    I agree. When I was studying conducting, the teacher would suddenly say, "You! Sing the soprano part at this point. NOW!!!!" Students today (aka snowflakes) would die. Hated it at the time, but I have to say that treatment made me a better musician. Clefs and transposition - no problem!

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    If you really want to do this at a more general level, then consider working through Arnold Schoenberg's Preliminary Exercises in Counterpoint: it uses the old clefs quite a bit, and is exceedingly thorough on the various flavours of species counterpoint.

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