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Treble Clef and the Aging Brain

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by fu22ba55, Sep 9, 2019.


  1. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    What's the most foolproof approach to sight-reading treble clef without impacting my (already spotty) bass clef knowledge?

    Is it OK to "compartmentalize" the two clefs to different parts of the fingerboard, as I describe in a) below?

    It seems whenever I work on treble clef sight-reading, my bass clef skills suffer, especially in Simandl 4th position and the transition area.

    Background: I've only been reading music (bass clef) for about 6 years, and I'm still a bit spotty at it up in the ledger lines. I've been trying to improve (bass clef) sightreading up around the heel (Simandl 4th position), but I've ALSO been trying to learn to sightread treble clef, because 99% of lead sheets I'm looking at are in treble clef, and I want to be able to grab those melodies faster. Treble clef sight-reading seems more valuable to me right now than reading bass clef ledger lines.

    Strategy: I have the best luck with sight-reading when I treat the instrument like a horn or the piano, i.e. there's only ONE SPOT on the neck to find each note. So I'm thinking I should always default to thumb position when practicing treble clef sightreading?

    a) Should I ALWAYS switch to thumb position for treble clef? (Just to avoid confusion). So the 10th "fret" C on the D string is reserved for BASS CLEF (first ledger line ABOVE the bass clef), and 15th "fret" C on the A string is first ledger line BELOW the treble clef? (Yes, I know they're the same pitch.)

    b) Or should I be able to read both treble and bass clef in Simandl 4th position (at the neck heel). I feel like long term, this is where I need to be, but whenever I drill one clef, the other clef suffers. My aging brain can't keep them apart.

    c)
    Or should I damn the torpedoes and treat middle c (first ledger line below treble clef) as 3rd "fret" C on the A string? (transpose everything down an octave)

    Has anyone successfully conquered this issue as a late-in-life sight-reader?
     
  2. good questions! I can't address all right now but will give some thoughts as a relatively late learner (started ~20 years old). With treble clef, I find it more useful to think of the notes rather than a specific location on the bass. In other words, I treat the octave of the pitch as flexible. I could play the first ledger line (middle C) on the 3rd fret (for lack of a better term) on the A-string or 5th fret on the G-string. The choice depends on the surrounding notes. The reason for this is that often i am given a treble clef leadsheet to double the melody. I select the range that works/sounds best for me. I can't sight read an uptempo bebop head in a thumb position but I can at least survive taking it an octave down. Now, if it is a written out bass part (not a leadsheet), that's different and I need to learn the part.

    Regarding learning the notes and confusing with bass clef, this takes practice. One simple thing you can do to get started is just take some music (single line works best) and say the note names in order out loud in a steady rhythm (i.e. ignore rhythmic notation). I had to do this in school with solfege syllables to learn treble bass, tenor and alto clefs. Next, take it to your instrument. Go at whatever pace you are at and make the clef you are reading in deliberate. for instance, notice the clef at each new line. I don;t think there is a short cut to reading well, you really have to keep at it.
     
    oren and fu22ba55 like this.
  3. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    Thanks Meandering. So no benefit to segregating/compartmentalizing the fingerboard... better in the long run to play treble clef even in spots where it heavily overlaps bass clef (i.e. first position)? I'm just already such a crappy sight-reader in bass clef... I'm afraid confusing matters (down there in 1st position) with treble clef will be the death knell to my bass clef reading.

    Your saying practice BOTH, all the time, forever, to keep them both up.
     
  4. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    I started with treble clef when I was a kid and picked up bass clef later in life. Now, I'd say I'm equally bad at both; reading better is on my list, but way toward the bottom. I can read a melody I'm familiar with in either clef but just like switching between Spanish and German, both foreign languages to me, I continue to think in Spanish for a while until it sinks in that I'm in Germany now. Usually, the transition happens in a few minutes but once when I was handed a melody in treble clef and asked to perform it in 10 minutes, I wrote the letter names below the notes to remind me, and it went fine.
    One way to approach the difference is to recognize that a C in bass clef is an A in treble clef, so when going from bass to treble clef, you're reading down a 3rd. I don't think it will help to limit yourself to one part of the fingerboard, but it might help to pick melodies that don't stray too far above or below the staff when starting out.
    I think the easiest way to gain proficiency is to read for a bit every day. Melodies are a great place to start. Once I got used to it, I don't find I need to practice it regularly and can pretty much pick up where I left off. You can practice away from your instrument with a piece of sheet music, writing or saying the names of the pitches on the music.
    When I decide to focus on improving my reading, I'll consider improving my sight singing and add my instruments later because I'd expect to get more benefit for my effort.
     
    John Chambliss and fu22ba55 like this.
  5. For a leadsheet, be able to play the music where it is comfortable at a minimum. I think any jazz player should be able to read a treble clef leadsheet. If it is a written bass part, then play the part as written.

    Yes, work at both but at a comfortable level. At the beginning your treble clef reading may be simpler material and that's fine. Like many things in music, putting in a concentrated effort will raise your reading level. It then takes less effort to stay at that level. After you get comfortable reading in treble clef, you won't be practicing reading in treble clef, you will just be reading music written in treble clef.
     
    fu22ba55 likes this.
  6. notabene

    notabene

    Sep 20, 2010
    SF Bay area
    I have the best luck with sight-reading when I treat the instrument like a horn

    Woodwind and brass instruments have many ways to finger many notes, usually with subtle tonal/intonational differences. The only way to play them in tune is to start with the fingering while be "thinking" the right pitch. Same with a bass.

    Steven
     
    fu22ba55 likes this.
  7. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    I was actually even thinking of breaking out ye olde saxaphone for a couple months, just to re-burn in the note names, without confusing my bass clef muscle memory (on the upright). Maybe burning in the note names with an actual horn will help me compartmentalize a bit.

    But I have a feeling that @meandering's advice of being clef-aware / clef-agnostic on the upright itself is a better approach.
     
  8. Neon Scribe

    Neon Scribe Supporting Member

    My technique for reading, in any register, in any key, any clef, any instrument, transposing in any direction, is 1) find the key and the register you're mainly going to play in on the instrument, 2) orient the lower tonic and the upper tonic for the octave you're mainly playing, 3) get that scale in your fingers in that range, 4) visually orient yourself by finding those two tonics in the key and clef you are reading, 5) scan for accidentals and make sure you know how to find them with your fingers. The natural notes are just the steps in the scale you know, and you've planned for the accidentals. Your comfort level comes from practicing a lot, but you can find your way by doing this. I don't know how much help this is, since this is basically just how you play written music from first principles, but it may help you to orient yourself one step at a time.
     
    fu22ba55 likes this.
  9. Paul New

    Paul New Supporting Member

    Jun 1, 2004
    deepest alabama
    Repetition. That's it. I play saxophones too, both Eb and Bb versions, and read both music written for the horns and buy my fakebooks in C, read the lead sheets in treble with my bass, and read bass clef. There's nothing special about me, for sure, and I don't know any tricks. Just do it and keep doing it and it will become easy.
     
    fu22ba55 likes this.
  10. notabene

    notabene

    Sep 20, 2010
    SF Bay area

    I play both too, sometimes on the same gig. And I prefer to have parts in C. The only issues I have found are when people give me horn parts in Bb (when playing tenor), and I switch to bass, in the same piece, even with a separate part in C (treble) I sometimes have moments of confusion.
     
  11. MonetBass

    MonetBass ♪ Just listen ♫ Supporting Member

    Sep 15, 2006
    Tulsa, OK
    Take the bottom line of the treble clef part and move it to the top. Now you have the equivalent notes in bass clef. That's how I taught myself to do it.
     

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