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18 comments

Nice article. In all my years of studying music I had no idea about “alto” and “tenor” clefs. And I thought I was good. Thank You. cf

I’ve learnt a lot of new ideas concerning the alto clef and tenor clef of whose difference never existed in my thinking. Thank you.

More helpful and precise to define which pitch you are talking about when referencing for instance a “C”. Is it C3, or C4 or?

i was reading for 5th grade theory from the work book of Trinity college.. found it difficult to understand the tenor clef.. but you made it very simple and interesting

If the musical staff had more than five lines, it would be too difficult to read. Locating middle C between the bass and treble clef makes perfect sense. So does locating it on the middle line of the alto clef if you are only using one staff. I suppose the whole point is to avoid placing notes too far above or below the staff.

This is amazing. I just learned about the Alto clef after my son brought home a viola. I lived in the world of treble and bass on the piano all my life.

Why use alto and tenor clefs at all if they’re only one note value away from treble clef? Because it’s MIDDLE C, not the octave above. Thanks for your explanation; now I understand that my new double bass method isn’t just being draconian and forcing me to learn an arbitrary and cruel clef. It better represents the register, and after a few weeks I’ll probably appreciate fewer ledger lines as a result.

I learned the treble clef lines “Every Good Boy Does Fine” and the bass clef lines “Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always” . Until I had a child who eventually became a music educator was I aware of alto and tenor clef. Give the bass clef anytime! Low Brass!

I just joined an adult community chorale, and many of the music sheets have a treble clef with an “8” below it. You don’t mention that anywhere. I was told that’s for tenors, and I am one, but I was givien conflicting meanings of this symbol by different music teachers. Can you give an authoritative explanation?

Hi Michel,

This is a great question. The treble clef with an 8 below it is also known as the vocal tenor clef. When an “8” or “8ve” is used in music it almost always refers to an adjustment needing to be made in regards to octaves (since an octave has 8 notes). The “8” in this case is used to indicate that the notes written on the page should be sung an octave lower than written. Does that make sense?

I’m not a professional at any instrument; I have a few years of experience with the violin. I sing, and I mess around on the piano. I am not an expert, but I have a few acronyms that might be useful in remembering the note names of the different clefs.
– Treble clef
Elephants Go Bouncing Down Freeways
FACE
– Bass clef
Good Burritos Don’t Fall Apart
All Cows Eat Grass
– Alto clef
Fire Animals Cross Everything Gracefully
Good Bunnies Deserve Food
– Tenor clef
DeFACE
Eggs Go Bowling Downstairs
By the way, thank you for helping me with the clef notes! I knew some of these acronyms before, but some were made up by me or one of my family members. I wouldn’t have been able to have those acronyms if not for this information (specifically Alto and Tenor clefs)!

We are glad you found the article to be helpful and useful!
These are great acronyms you have come up with here. Thank you for sharing!

Your article is so clear and easy to understand. I’m learning a piece on cello, where just two notes are really high – turns out they are A4 and B4 – on the tenor clef. Everything else on the bass clef. Guess who gets to be smarty-pants in their lesson tomorrow?

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