Clef is a symbol of a musical notation that gives meaning to the staff notation and makes music to be easily readable for musicians. The staff or stave is nothing but five horizontal lines and spaces arrange parallel to one another in equal distance. The musical clef is the first symbol on the left side of the staff. The presence of the symbol of a musical clef at the beginning of the staff will assigns a fixed pitch to a particular line of the staff and reflect on other lines.
Similarly, clef is known as the symbol that define the pitch of the staff and always placed at the opening of every staves. The primary aim of a clef in staff notation is to establish the pitch of a particular line of the staff in relation to musical alphabets. Above all, it tells us which musical alphabet (i.e. A, B, C, D, E, F, or G) each line or space will represent. Clef make this possible by attaching alphabetical name to a particular line and name other spaces and lines that follow it serially in alphabetical order.
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Certainly, the notes are always arranged in sequence on the staff from bottom to the top in ascending order or from top to the bottom in descending order. So that the next letter will be on the upper line or space in ascending order. And the other way round in descending order.
When placing the musical alphabet on the staff, the last letter will follow by another first letter of the musical alphabet to form a continuous arrangement. For example, the last musical alphabet, (i.e. G) will always followed by another first musical alphabet, (i.e. A’) which will higher in pitch than the first ‘A’ in ascending order.
This pitch-fixing on the staff by a CLEF makes the clef to be an important part of the staff notation. In fact, clefs are indeed helping us to accurately relate to the pitch of any musical note placed on the line or space of the stave.
Types of Clef
In the past, there were many different types of clef used in musical notation. However, we will focus on the major clefs that are in use today. These major clefs are three and they are G (or Treble) clef, F (or Bass) clef and C (or Alto/Tenor) clef.
Treble (or G) Clef
A symbol for Treble or G clef at the beginning of a staff indicate that “G” is the second line of a staff when we count from the bottom. This is the more reason the symbol that looks like letter G curls around the second line.
After G has been established on the staff, the other spaces and lines took their respective names. The name follows the order of arrangement of the musical alphabet. That means, the next space after G (second space from bottom) is A, the next line after A (the third line from below) is B and so on.
We use common mnemonics to memorize each line and space names on the treble or G clef. Name of all line starting from the bottom line are E-G-B-D-F. Therefore, we say “Every Good Boy Deserve Fruit”. Similarly, we cave simply use FACE for the spaces when counting from the bottom space. Because, from the first space from bottom, we have F-A-C-E just like the word “FACE”.
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The G clef is also known as Treble clef because it notates the register of the higher notes in music. The notes for the instruments like flute, violin, saxophone, etc., with higher pitch are always written on this clef. Likewise, the keyboard instrument like piano, organ, harpsichord etc. normally used G clef for higher note.
Bass (or F) Clef
A symbol for Bass or F clef at the beginning of a staff indicate that “F” is the name of the fourth line of a staff when we count from the bottom. This is the more reason the two dots are up and below the fourth line of the F clef.
After F has been established on the staff, the other spaces and lines took their respective names. The name follows the order of arrangement of the musical alphabet. That means, the next space after F (fourth space from bottom of the lines) is G, the next line after G (the fifth line from the bottom) is A and so on.
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We use common mnemonics to memorize each line and space names on the Bass or F clef. Names of all line starting from the bottom are G-B-D-F-A. Therefore, we say “Good Boys Deserve Fruits Always”. In the same sense, we will can use “All Cows Eat Grass” to memorize each space names that are A-C-E-G starting from the bottom space.
This F clef is also known as Bass clef because it notates the register of the lower notes in music. The notes for the instruments like trombone, bassoon, tuba, etc., with lower pitch are always written on this clef. Likewise, the keyboard instrument like piano, organ, harpsichord etc. normally used F clef for their lower notes.
We have other clefs besides G and F clef because each instrument has a range of notes that it can play. There would be a lot of ledger lines for lower instruments, which would make the music very difficult to read if every instrument read from the treble clef, for example. Different clefs are assigned to different instruments based on the notes each instrument is able to play thus we have Alto and Tenor Clef which are also referred to as C-Clef.
With C-clef, we have a symbol that established a line of a staff as Middle C. Note that middle C is a note that is common to G clef and F clef. It stands in between the two clefs when we bring them together with G clef above the F clef. We have two types C-clef in music. These are C-clef for Alto instrument also known as Alto-Clef. And C clef for Tenor instruments also known as Tenor clef.
Alto Clef (C-Clef)
This has two curves that meet in the center. The line on the staff that these curves meet is the note C. As with all C-clef, this line indicates the position of middle C. When the C-clef is placed on the third line of the stave, it is called the alto or viola clef. This clef is most commonly used for the viola (Alto clef is often called viola clef), and other instruments like the viola da gamba, the alto trombone, and the mandala.
For alto clef, the third line (from the bottom) is established as the Middle-C while the fourth line (from the bottom) is established for the Tenor Clef as its Middle-C.
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Tenor Clef (C-Clef)
This is very similar to Alto Clef. It has two curves that meet in the center, but it is positioned on the second line from the top and that becomes the note C. Where the C-clef is placed on the fourth line of the stave, it is called the tenor clef. This clef is used for the upper ranges of the bassoon, cello, euphonium, double bass, and trombone.
The tenor clef is periodically used to write music for instruments like cello, or trombone. Likewise, the alto clef is accepted clef to write music for viola.
Neutral or Percussion Clef
Generally, we employ treble or bass clefs to write music for pitched wind, string, and keyboard instruments. We also used the treble or bass clefs for pitched instruments that are percussion in nature. Such instruments are xylophone, marimba, and others. However, many percussion instruments like a snare drum, Konga, tambourine, shaker, are the unpitched instrument. In order to write music for these unpitched instruments, we employ a clef called neutral clef. Neutral clef is a special clef used for unpitched (pitch-less) instruments, such as percussion instruments.
Furthermore, we employ neutral clef for pitched instruments to play non-pitched extended techniques. For instance, when the violinist asked to hit the body of a violin, or a guitarist to hit the box of a guitar. Also, we can employ this neutral clef when we want a vocal body like the choir to snap, stomp, or clap their hands.
Moreover, this musical clef is sometimes called percussion clef and it utilized the ‘X’ mark as a note. This X marks with a comment above it for proper rhythmic action is used to write the rhythms for the percussion instruments. In addition, this clef used a non-defined pitch on the stave (of staff). Thus every line of the stave is without a precise pitch and belongs to the percussion instrument. , the stave of the neutral clef is not always the five lines we used to in other clefs. Majorly, neutral clef used a single line. However, we can still use other configurations like the five popular five lines.
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