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Why are the clefs taught in such a confusing way?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by zakedodead, Feb 6, 2014.

  1. zakedodead


    Sep 8, 2013
    I've been trying to learn to read music (and also to play) and I was completely lost on the logic of it until I read about the clefs on wikipedia
    Which told me that a clef is simply a reference to what note is on that line of the staff. This thread was made to ask why does no education just simply tell you that and instead they tell you to memorize mnemonics that are specific to either the bass or treble clef?
  2. no reason::smug:
    The range of notes that a particular staff holds is determined by the clef.
    Clefs are musical symbols that appear at the far left side of a staff. They define what pitches the lines and spaces of the staff represent. There are several different kinds of clefs and each one is designed to conveniently display a range of notes. The two that are most commonly used are the treble and bass clefs.

    The treble clef is used to represent notes with pitches that range from middle C (C4) and higher. If you look closely at the treble clef you will notice that it ends with a little curl that wraps around the second line up from the bottom of the staff. That line represents the note G. And for this reason this clef is also commonly called the G clef. You can always use that little curl as a reference point when trying to determine the notes of this staff as that curl is always there and always indicates the note G.

    Ledger lines are very common as most instruments have a range that is wider than one octave, which is basically the range of notes that can be written within the lines and spaces of a staff. Ledger lines are used to accommodate the remainder of the pitches that an instrument is capable of playing. The goal of the clef that is chosen for each instrument is to keep the majority of the notes are played within the body of the staff itself as it is easier to read those notes than one that are written on ledger lines.

    The Bass clef is traditionally used to represents notes that range from middle C on down. It is commonly called the F clef. Notice the two dots that follow the symbol actually enclose the second line down from the top, which is the note F. You can always use that as a reference point when learning the notes on this staff.

    There are some helpful devices that you can use to help you to memorize the names of the notes on the bass staff. I find that the easiest trick to remember is to know that “all” the notes between the two outer lines are A B C D E F G, which are the first five letters of the alphabet.

    this is a but a small edited part of my mentor's book on theory, so I hope he won't mind… information wants to be free!:cool:

    f n o r d!
  3. 1958Bassman


    Oct 20, 2007
    Are you learning this in a formal music training setting, or independently? If you look at the Treble clef, the loop on top and the curl are centered on G and the dot on Bass clef is on F. Treble clef is often called 'G clef' and Bass clef is called 'F clef'. C clef is usually used for vocal music, IIRC.

    I was in Grade school in the early '60s and we started Music class in 2nd grade- they did teach us about treble clef, but there wasn't much need for us to know about Bass clef until later, when we were in band and some of us played instruments like Trombone, Tuba, etc.
  4. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    I was taught a clef is a refrence in pitch, so the clef informs you of the relationship of the notes to the staff. With this idea in mind i was taught that to read any staff the notes are A B C D E F G in that order....that order will never change. There will be variations depending on key but the order will mot change, it will have either a flat or a sharp next to it, but the diatonic order will not change.

    For us there were no lines and spaces to learn, so no putting acronyms in the way as another level of learning or reference.
    Such things as Every Good Boy Does Fine for treble clef or Good Boys Deserve Favour Always may help in the start to remember what is after all just every other letter from a specific starting note.

    We were taught that a C will alway follow a B and an A will always follow a B etc etc. So the reference between the clefs and the notes used was a relative one, not different to the interval training we got later on(root note played followed by a target note and we state the intervals relationship).
    There are many ways to learn what is in fact the first seven notes of the alphabet, but our foundation was based on the idea of interval relationships because music theory works in any clef, then understanding the relatioship will teach you, not only to read any clef, but read and transpose into others. Practice is the key, along with regular practical use, will develop it, but their is one great way to start away from the instrument.

    The exercise.
    Recite the alphabet forwards from each one of the diatonoc notes.
    Recite it backwards from each one of the diatonic notes.
    Recite it forwards every other diatonic note.
    Recite it backwards every other diatonic note.

    In this simple exercise we learn to just move through the notes and learn there relationships between each other.
    We do not think Every Good Boy Deserves Favour or Good Boys Deserve Favour Always to know that the B follows an A or the a B if the first alternate note from G or the second alternate note from F....in all clefs.

    Later exercise for us included reciting intervals through 3rds, 4ths and 5ths in the same way by going backwards and forwards through the seven diatonic notes (this foundation skill later helps when learning inversions, chords, extensions, transcribing to new keys etc).

    Now if you learn to recite 3rds backwards and forwards from any given note you in fact are learning chord basics.....again at the time we did not realise this but the foundation set in place the skill to understand what a 7th was in relation to a root note when it came up.

    As a mental exercise rather than watch TV, or if traveling to work on a train or bus, start to recite examples in the exercise and learn the notes so you can reduce thinking time and react better to what you read. :)
  5. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Why has been answered. On to the fly specks; one thing that helps me:

    Bass Clef - D is on the middle line. D is my home base. See a fly speck on or above the "D line" and you can find that note on the D or G strings. Using first position.

    See a fly speck below the "D line" and you can find that note on the A or E strings. Using first position.

    For some reason that clicked for me.

    Yes to reading standard notation at lunch, between commercials, etc. Rust develops quickly, so read sheet music every day - and visualize where on the fretboard that fly speck will be found.

    Have fun.
  6. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    Malcom, that's a nice way to think about it. And actually simple too. I may steal that. My "home" has always been the bottom of the clef. You have to work harder to translate up.

  7. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    You have it in a nutshell mate, its about how the player relates to it...not how it is taught as such. Many players will go away and learn to relate what they were taught as there will be those that can use it as taught.

    As i said, i was lucky as my teacher did not subscribe to the teaching of the acronyms....she just taught us to work within the seven notes.

    One of the 'tricks', i suppose, was that she go us to relate to the root of the clef and then find that middle ground in the staff you talk of.
    We learned that if A G was the lowest note on a bass clef staff then an octave up it is a space and an octave up it appears on a line again.
    Like you we learned to work out where those changes were in relation to the middle ground and learn to see them above and below as 'the same'. So that Middle Staff E is on a space, so above it will be on a line an octave above and below
    On a Treble Clef that space is now the C and the same rule applies as to the C above and below being on lines.
    This is great when working outside the staff lines as every note you see helps to reference of the note.
    Like learning to read as children, we were encouraged to use our finger to follow the notes and trust, as our eyes start to see it, we will just "forget" to use our finger and follow the notes with out eyes.
    In some cases we were encouraged to use the edge of a sheet of paper to follow the notes, or the tip of a pencil...anything so long as it drew in our focus. The trick as she saw it was learning to focus is important in learning to read the dots.

    The tip of the pencil was a strange one when used out side the staff above, she would have us count and recite all the note spaces and lines from the top of the staff up to the target note for each lesson to encourage us to use all the staff. I now know that the lesson was not about the target note, but about giving us a reason to use all the staff so we became familier with it, so much saw you saw the relationship under the staff even thought we never done that exercise there...the lesson is the same one and again is about focus as much as it is about reading.

    Much in the same way we learned to multiply by saying out loud 'times tables' or spelling by spelling out a loud words that have common factors, such as 'I before E' words.
    As you say its about using it and being familier with your own usage. :)
  8. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    That came from The ABC's of Bass by Janice Tucker Rhoda.

    It's written for stand up bass or fretless electric where finger spacing is important. I was used to fret spacing before, and like I said it all clicked from some of the exercises in the book.
  9. i always teach that the treble clef is just a fancy letter G and it circles the 2nd line designating it as G, and the same with the bass clef.

    most piano method books do make mention of this, it's usually one of the first things in the books (unless you're using a book designed for 5 year olds, obviously)
  10. pfox14


    Dec 22, 2013
    If you get the chance, take a look at some piano/keyboard music. The left hand (bass) plays in bass clef and right hand in treble clef. One ledger line below the treble clef is equal (same note) as one ledger line above the bass clef, so the two basically work in tandem to cover just about every note on the piano.

    The bass clef is used for bass and other lower pitched instruments because the majority of notes they play fall into that range just like the left hand of a piano player. Hope that helps to simplify it.

    PS Just be glad no one brought up tenor & alto clef.
  11. If you take a look at the Wikipedia page on clefs, you'll find that the G, C, and F clefs used to be used in more positions on the staff than they are now. The C clef is still use this way for at least alto and tenor, but you can move the F clef down a line for Baritone and up a line for Subbass, just as you can move the G clef down a line as used for some violin music in the past.
  12. zakedodead


    Sep 8, 2013
    I'm learning independantly ( well dependant on online documentation such as studybass.com, justingguitar, etc)
    And they all just tell you to cram every good boy does fine (or good boys do fine always for bass clef) in your head.
    That mnemonic wasn't really sticking in my brain until I read on wikipedia that the clef symbol is just a reference to what note is on what line, and that the staff just cycles through each note from a to g
  13. Lownote38


    Aug 8, 2013
    Nashville, TN
    A good teacher will tell you that the "treble clef" is a "G" clef (symbol circles around the "G" on the staff), and that "bass" clef is an "F" clef (the two dots are on either side of "F" on the staff). Knowing the grand staff with both clefs is worth it. Then, there is the movable "C" clef that some classical string instruments use. That's another ballgame completely.
  14. ArtechnikA

    ArtechnikA I endorsed a check once... Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2013
    I was with you until here...
  15. Amara

    Amara Fumble-Fingered Beginner

    Jan 13, 2014
    Learning about the C clef made clefs and the 5-line staff suddenly make a whole lot more sense. When you put middle C on the middle line, a 5-line staff lets you express four tones in either direction from your reference before you go outside and start to deal with ledger lines. The treble and bass clefs then start to make sense as well: the upper line of the centered C clef is the treble G, and the lower line is the bass F.

    I've also found it easy for learning purposes to imagine an extra phantom line on both the treble and bass: the upper ledger line for the treble and the lower ledger line for the bass. The two six-line staves are then identical: EGBDFA for the lines and FACEG for the intervals, whether you're looking at treble or bass. Middle C is its own special snowflake that separates the two.
  16. Amara

    Amara Fumble-Fingered Beginner

    Jan 13, 2014
    Were there ever A, B, D, and E clefs? What did they look like?

    (Given the relation between small F, middle C, and single G, I'm guessing no.)
  17. Amara

    Amara Fumble-Fingered Beginner

    Jan 13, 2014
    A related question: why is the canonical root named C and not A? Was Aeolian considered more fundamental than Ionian when they were naming the notes?

    (Oh. Canonical root, Aeolian root. Is that it?)
  18. The only other ones I know beside f and g are the tenor and alto clefs. Those are c clefs. There's also Heathclef, Clef Clavin and Clef Williams. I'm so clefer.
  19. Reddog01


    Nov 3, 2013
    Georgetown, TX
    It is very common to see music written in alto clef and tenor clef. As an old trombone player, we had music written in tenor clef thrown at us on occasions. Cello players read a lot of tenor clef music. Viola players get alto clef music thrown at them frequently. The whole point of the different clefs is so that the player can easily read the music that is written within the staves. Reading within the staff is MUCH easier that reading ledger lines. Bass guitar players are actually reading their music within the staff, but in actual fact, the notes are really an octave down. If we had to play all of our music reading the actual ledger lines, we would be pulling our hair out. Tuba players, bass trombone players, bassoon players, contra bass clarinet and bassoon players all read many of their notes well below the bass staff on ledger lines. Bottom line, the different clefs were created as a convenience to the musicians.
  20. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    I think that one day when one naming system meet another system and one of them is way more advanced and they want to create a more universal music language ... then they decide that Do = C and etc ...

    Maybe English people saw Amajor as their basic thing but more people used Do = C as the basic of their music language and maybe they developpe their music language way more so they followed.