The Musical Clef

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.

Treble of G Clef
Treble of G Clef

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”.

ALSO READ: Articulation in Music

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.

Bass or F Clef
Bass or 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.

Also Read: What is Legato ?

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.

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 or C clef
Alto Clef

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.

Tenor clef or C clef
Tenor Clef

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.

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