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What is a Tenor Clef?

So....what's a Tenor Clef?

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #1
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, it is "The C clef positioned to indicate that the fourth line from the bottom of a staff represents the pitch of middle C."

You can see a picture, and do some drills, here:

The Tenor clef is not related to the male Tenor singing voice in modern SATB choral.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #2
It's used for the high range of the cello, the trombone, and the bassoon, to avoid using a lot of leger lines. It's fairly easy if you think of it as the top three lines of the bass clef plus the bottom line of the treble clef on top, with middle c in between on the fourth line. Or you can think of it as bass clef up a fifth, or any number of other dodges.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #3
Or better still (if you are going to use it a lot), learn it, as you would learn treble or bass clef.  There's another thread in this forum about learning to read bass clef (thread 2706).  The method applies just as well to tenor clef.

Of course, if you're an infrequent user, any of the dodges is quite fine!

Robert's comment that the tenor clef is not related to tenor voices in modern SATB is quite true.  The notes are NOT the same between "instrument/C-clef" tenor clef and "vocal/octave G-clef" tenor-voice clef.

It once was the case that tenor voices read "instrumental" tenor clef - and alto voices read  alto clef, which is why the clefs are named the way they are.

You might also find some old choral pieces with these old clefs.  For example, I think it's Richard Strauss, Der Arbend that has SSSSAAAATTTTBBBB, with altos and tenors singing in old clefs.  I was the only one who could actually read my part, as I had already learned tenor clef from playing bassoon.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #4
I have seen the tenor clef used for cello and bassoon, but when it was used on chorus parts (only) in the Durufle Requiem, it was far from user friendly.  A bassoon cue was given with the tenor clef in place before the chorus entrance.  While the bassoon played every note the chorus parts would come in on, it was necessary to figure out what note that was beforehand.
Since 1998

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #5
Ah, the wit of composers/copyists!  No doubt the chorus part tenor clef bassoon cue also had ledger lines, to make it just that bit harder to read!

(Although, before we forget about my shameless nagging;  please don't write in tenor clef unless you're writing mostly in ledger lines above the staff!  Bass clef is much more familiar anywhere else.)

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #6
I know they do use the tenor clef and cello players are accustomed to use it.
But I wonder if the purpose is to suppress leger lines, aren't the bass clef and treble clef sufficient to notate any music?
There might lies a deep background.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #7
...aren't the bass clef and treble clef sufficient to notate any music?
There are some instruments which, if written in either bass or treble clef, would require the use of many leger lines (above or below, respectively).  The use of the alto or tenor clef avoids excessive leger lines.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #8
Three male clefs and a tenor clef make up a Barbershop Clef Quartet. :P

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #9
My main instrument is the viola da gamba - seven strings and a pretty wide range. We use all the clefs, and I'd rather see a clef change every three bars than any leger lines, and so would a lot of cellists. It depends on what you're used to. Alto clef (which I prefer to tenor) is exactly halfway between bass and treble - the middle five lines of the "grand staff" if you like. I think cellists prefer tenor clef, even though it only saves them two leger lines, because they can think of it as "everything over one string", since it's a fifth above bass clef and their strings are tuned a fifth apart. Lazy, lazy, cellists.

The octave transposing clefs are a cheat and an annoyance, like those irritating transposing winds instruments. Let's have real-world pitch notation for everybody! Stop whingeing and learn to read!

Of course, that's just me.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #10
In defence of whining (it is only in recent years I've seen whine spelt whinge), the advantage of having transposing (treble clef) instruments is that when you move from one member of an instrument family to another, you keep the same fingering for the note you see on the page.

Reading everything in concert pitch would require clarinetists who play Bb, Eb and A clarinets to know at least three different sets of fingerings for a particular pitch, and to remember which one to use for the particular instrument. I say "sets" of fingerings because several individual notes have two or more alternate fingerings already.  A concert pitch middle C# has 3 legitate fingerings on a Bb soprano clarinet.  The same pitch would have to be fingered differently on an A clarinet,** and a third fingering yet again on an alto clarinet, and yet another fingering on bass clarinet, two if the instrument has the extra G#/D# key for the left pinkie.

** I am not sure about my transposition, but I think a C# concert is an F# written for A clarinet?  If so, this note has two legit fingerings.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #11
Adding to Delta David's reply - the importance of just one set of fingerings becomes obvious when you're speaking of pit musicians.  We often have to swap instruments several times in the same piece, and we can have a variety of instruments to swap between.  If we have Alto sax, Oboe, Clarinet and Alto Flute - which is a conceivable selection - it's good to know that three fingers of the left hand will give a "G".  If three of the instruments weren't transposing, the same fingering would give Bb for Alto Sax, G for Oboe, F for Clarinet and C for Alto Flute.  When you've got two beats get rid of the old instrument, pick up the new, turn the page and try to follow the erratic singers, deciding which fingerings you're using is the last thing you want to be doing.  Note - I'm not implying that ALL woodwinds have the same fingerings for each written note!  Four fingers is F on Clarinets and Saxophones, but F# on Oboe, and Bassoon and the bottom "half" of Clarinet give a C with three fingers.

An extreme case of woodwind doubling occurs in "High Society", with Reed 1 playing PIccolo, Flute, Clarinet, Sop Sax, Alto Sax, Bari Sax and optionally Alto Flute, and Reed 2 playing Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax and optionally English Horn.  More typically there are about 5 books, with a Flute/Picc specialist, an Oboe specialist, a Clarinet/Bass Clarinet specialist, a Bassoon specialist, and everybody also playing a Sax, and a Flute or Clarinet or both.

Atypically, Recorders don't transpose.  I don't know why not.  Does anyone?  (No prizes for glib answers like "Because transposing is stupid".)


Kaz: ...aren't the bass clef and treble clef sufficient to notate any music?
Zak: There are some instruments which, if written in either bass or treble clef, would require the use of many leger lines (above or below, respectively). The use of the alto or tenor clef avoids excessive leger lines.

As the range of any clef is just an eleventh before you need leger lines, I'd say most instruments would need many in at least one direction.  Basic instruments with about an octave range, such as a tin whistle, might fit all in the staff.

Zak, what I think Kaz means, is that if you use both clefs for each instrument, there would be no need for any other.  Ignoring notes below bass clef (which tubas use regularly) and notes above treble clef (which flutes and piccolos use regularly), Kaz is theoretically right.  You'd only need a single leger line for Middle C.

But sometimes instruments play in the range that has Middle C in ...well, the middle.  For example, violas typically when playing as part of a string accompaniment for singing, clarinets playing below the "break", bassoons playing as a tenor instrument, horns most of the time, saxophones most of the time.

You'd be swapping between treble and bass clef every few notes.  It would get messy, and - after a while - confusing.  Violas get around it by changing clefs, horns and saxen get around it by transposing, bassoons either use leger lines above bass clef, or switch to tenor clef, and clarinets just deal with leger lines, but only ever have one clef to read.  Ask a sax or clarinet (or violin, oboe, or trumpet) player if they'd rather leger lines or multiple clefs, and I can guarantee they'd choose the leger lines.

But, Kaz, there may be hope for reducing clefs one day.  In the Reed 6 book for "Chess", the bassoon part was usually written in the normal bass clef, sometimes in tenor clef - but also sometimes in treble clef.  We do sometimes use treble clef for very, very high notes, but this was for notes usually written in tenor clef!

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #12
Recorders do transpose: The Soprano plays an octave above its written part and the bass plays either an octave below treble clef or an octave above bass (I have seen it notated both ways).  Occasionally you see Alto transposed to an "F" instrument, but this is rare.

The reason that they aren't normally transposed into other keys is that these are very old instruments, from before the day when transposing became common.  Note the (also quite old) Bassoon, which fingers in its root octave like the Alto or Bass recorder (C = 3 fingers down) or note the Viola, presumably a natural for transposition from Violin fingerings, which instead got its own clef.  Transposition is more often seen in instruments designed in the 19th century, when wind intruments suddenly became much more complex and some order was needed if musicians were to have any hope of doubling.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #13
Well, yes technically the outer recorders transpose.  But it's octave transposition, which isn't quite the same.  Of course, in the top registers of woodwinds, where cross-fingerings are complex, it's always easier to have the notes written in the correct octave, but playing from music written in the wrong octave is a doddle when compared to playing from music written for a different, non-octave transposition.

You're right about bassoon having "old" fingering.  It's the only regular current woodwind to have three fingers giving C, rather than G (apart from clarinet "bottom" half, ... overblows 12th ... stopped cylinder ... blah, blah, blah).  When I was starting out, an oboe/English horn friend had a play, and exclaimed of my bassoon, "It's in F!"

There have been experimental bassoons, trying to "modernise" the fingering, probably to the ubiquitous Boehm system, but they've all changed the sound too much.  Clarinets, oboes and flutes were all modernised, although I think oboes developed slightly differently.

It does indeed appear that transposition belongs to instruments of a certain period.  It could well be true for woodwinds.  Clarinets, saxophones, sarrusophones, and the "weird" oboes (oboe di caccia, English horn) and flutes (alto, bass) are all from a similar period.  But horns and trumpets have been around much longer, and were transposing long before.

A minor point about the strings:  Violas would not have developed a transposition from violins, but rather the other way around!  Violin = "small viol/viola".  Amusingly, violoncello = "small violone" = "small big viol".  Small big viols sometimes play in tenor clef, to get back to topic.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #14
Ewan, Zak:
Thank you very much for your comments.
My reply might be a little bit misunderstood.

I was talking about the tenor clef for cellos, not other instruments like violas.
The point is, which is easier reading in tenor clef or in treble clef for higher note of the cello.
For experienced cello players it would be the tenor clef, but for non experienced contrabass player like me who seldom encounter the tenor clef it sure is the treble clef.

Three leger lined G in bass clef is not difficult to read at all. And at the same time it is not too low to notate in treble clef.
That's why I insist upon two clefs.

You said,
...three fingers of the left hand will give a ...C for Alto Flute
I guess It's D.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #15
Yep, I think you're right.  I've never played flute, but that's no excuse.  But it does emphasise how confusing the whole thing is!

Kaz, I agree with you about tenor clef on the bass.  People who give you tenor clef should be shot!!

But your comment about tenor clef being easier for cellos because they're experienced (and it holds true equally for bassoons, and probably trombones) makes you think - how did they get experienced in reading tenor clef, and surely treble clef would have been easier when they started!  I know it would have been for me, as I had a piano background.

I guess it's just a matter of what you're used to, and maybe a bit of psychology.  For me, because I sing tenor, notes low in the treble clef just feel low, so playing the same written notes on bassoon would just feel wrong.  But tenor clef always feels "high, but comfortably so".  The same notes in bass clef are more "that must be a C because it's on a line and there are about the right number of legers - I hope".  And then there's always the cachet of playing music that other experienced players can't even read!  It's particularly gratifying when the conductor gets caught out!

Here's another observation about tenor clef:  I think that bassoonists are the only people who actually really read the clef.  Cello players simply read "one string over" in bass clef, and trombonists simply read the dots as though they were written in Bb pitch in treble clef (same as tenor sax and bass clarinet).  In Australia, many brass players (especially older players) started out in brass bands, where tenor trombones are written out in this errant manner.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #16
For many years I worked with John Hawker who was an excellent trombonist and arranger here in Melbourne, Australia.
He wrote his own lead trombone parts in concert treble.
But he is the only arranger I know that did that.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #17
For me, singing Bass in SATB, there is no problem with clefs. I fake reading the music. It is simply a matter of harmonizing with the overly-loud Soprano. There is always one, sometimes two or three in competition. :)

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #18
A note about Contrabass...

My son, who is studying under a symphonic bassist, is having to practice reading Bass (down an octave, the standard staff), Bass (not down an octave, marked as "up an octave"), Treble (down an octave) and Tenor (down an octave) to cover all the situations used by various composers through the centuries.  Realistically, there should have been a "Contrabass clef" created somewhere way back, just like the Alto was created for the Viola and the Bass for the Cello (or perhaps the instruments were chosen as to match the clef).  This clef would have had something like the G string as the middle line of the staff (corresponding to the bottom line of the bass clef, which is the absolute pitch it sounds). This would have put all of the pitches regularly played in concert music within three ledgers of the staff (two ledgers plus a space down = E string, or three ledgers plus a space down for C extensions, and three ledgers up = middle C, which is flying pretty high for most Controbassists.)

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #19
Also to get back onto topic:
I believe that the Tenor Clef may have been created for the "Tenor Viol" or "Tenor Viola" an instrument that went extinct when cello technique improved sufficiently to render it redundant.  It was apparently the size of a 3/4 cello, tuned an octave below a violin, and it is apparently believed that a number of 17th and early 18th century cello sonatas and concertos were actually composed for this intrument.  There are a small number of websites that discuss the instrument. It is also one of the instruments revived/redesigned in the "New Violin Family" octet.

The emergence of two clear winners out of a whole host of competing clefs (there is also a "soprano" and a "mezzosoprano" clef that involve the C clef sign) is probably due to keyboard and multipart voice music.  The keyboard became the composer's primary tool, and four-part voice music can be easily condensed into the Grand Staff. It probably just became too much a hassled to maintain anything else.

Of course, violists did somehow hold onto their staff...

My personal feeling is that the bass and treble clef cover most situations for most instruments with large ranges, so the other staffs can go ahead and die.  But from a musician's standpoint, I don't see an occasional tenor clef as an actual impediment.  It's awfully easy to just imagine the bottom three lines as the top three bass-clef lines and the top lines as ledgers.  Maybe its a visual brain versus verbal brain thing... different things are easy to different people.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #20
It's awfully easy to just imagine the bottom three lines as the top three bass-clef lines and the top lines as ledgers.

Fretheim, I think I'm going to have to disagree with you on thinking of the tenor clef as a variation of the bass (or any other clef).  I don't think any clef should be learned as a visual shift of any other.  The reason is that when you're playing, it's another thing to think about, that detracts from other things that can't be dispensed with, such as timing, intonation, expression, articulation, and even - if time permits - watching the conductor.  Players should be able to look at the heiroglyphs on the page and automatically be able to put their fingers/hands/feet/what-have-you in the right place without having to do mental somersaults to work out just what the right place is.

It's the same as how we read written language;  If I were to expect you move each vowel back one alphabetically and read aloud "O set on e shop" in three seconds, sure you could do it, but you'd be so busy doing the translation that you'd miss the message, and almost certainly the word emphasis.  I think it's because you have to deal with each word and each letter individually, rather than being able to look at the whole phrase and pick out the important words.

So, if we are going to use tenor clef (and alto) - which I agree is not for everyone - then let us agree to learn it properly, just like we learned bass and treble!

(there is also a "soprano" and a "mezzosoprano" clef that involve the C clef sign )

Don't forget the Baritone clef - which completes the C-clef family, having middle C on the top line.  It was also peculiar in that it was sometimes also written with the F clef on the third line.  I don't know of the G clef being used on the third line as a substitute for soprano clef.

There should have been a "Contrabass clef" created somewhere way back, just like the Alto was created for the Viola and the Bass for the Cello, or perhaps the instruments were chosen as to match the clef

I could be very wrong about this...  I think the clefs evolved from earlier notation, more for singers, rather than being invented specifically for string players.  It was probably more a case of each string instrument eventually settling on the most convenient clef/s, and some instruments vanishing, leaving just the four clefs in use today.  (Or five, if you include that stupid treble clef with an "8" or two below it!)

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #21
But it's not stupid. The tenor voice lies quite nicely in the treble clef transposed down an octave, whereas most of the top of the range would be on leger lines if written at pitch in the bass clef.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #22
Ewan is correct about the clefs evolved from earlier notation, more for singers, rather than being invented specifically for string players.  The different clefs (there used to be fifteen!) were used for different voice parts so that no ledger lines would be necessary.  See
Apparently, the friend who is researching notation for her senior thesis never finished, or else Clifford never came back here.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #23
Sorry, Peter, I didn't mean to imply that the "tenor voice" clef had no use.  I agree completely with you, that it's good for singers.  The bit I find stupid is the twee little "8"!  If piccolos, contrabassoons, (string) basses, glockenspiels, celesta and organ pedals (who have I missed?) can understand that there's an octave discrepancy, why can't tenors?  Or is it that we tenors really are all too thick?  [What do you see when you look in a tenor's ear?  Daylight!]

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #24
You've reminded me of something: an obscure clef sign I saw in a peice of antique sheet music I have ("Beautiful Land of Somewhere") which was apparently composed for the funeral of President McKinley.  I was able to work out that it was identical to a treble clef with an "8" under it, but the sign was a circle with an line through it.  I believe that Tenor and Lead were both marked in this clef.  Anyone know what it is called?

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #25
That is pretty much the standard when men sing from the treble clef.  If there is not an "8" under the treble clef for a male part it is implied in most of the choral repertoire.
Since 1998

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #26
I think the days of flexible clef use relate to what I think is a real difference in the way people read music.

I think most people learning an instrument now tend to read notation almost as if it were tablature - they learn a specific fingering on their instrument corresponds to a place on the staff. I think, from reading old books about music and musical education, that it used to be more common to learn to sight-sing first, and then apply this to any instrument one picked up.

The difference is that in the second case you read the stuff on the staff as music, not as instructions for your instrument. If you can already read music well, and some one shows you where "c" is on your instrument and then you can read for it, what you're really doing is hearing the music as you read it, and then playing it "by ear" on your instrument. It's a subtle but important difference from the "as tablature" way.

If you've learned to read notation as musical sound, staying oriented on the staff is easier if you stay within the same "system" - so a clef change might be easier on the brain than a transposition or an octave shift. (Bear in mind, too, that instrumental doubling was a lot more common before the 19th century age of specialists/virtuosos.)

As a doubler and dabbler myself, I find I prefer to know that middle "c", say, is always on the same line, whether it's the middle line in alto clef, the second in tenor, the lowest line in soprano clef, or the leger line above or below the two most of us use today. Octave clefs I can read, but they're outside the system and more disorienting, even though I don't have anything close to perfect pitch.

The modern trend seems to be to use treble clef as the Esperanto, and transpose octaves or pitches to suit it. (My father, who played woodwinds, thought even bass clef was unnecessary.) I've known bass guitar players who preferred treble clef.

Not that there's a right and wrong here; people will and should use what works best for them, but it's interesting to me how changing usages may reflect different ways of thinking about and experiencing music.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #27
AND what's far more important is to make it clear that "whingeing" (rhymes with "singeing" or "hingeing")
isn't an alternate spelling for "whining", but a portmanteau, I guess, of "whining" and "cringeing" meaning "to make a tiresome complaining pusillanimous sort of noise instead of being a mensch (person of decent moral fibre)". Maybe they don't use it much in the States; I think it's a Britishism that we also use here in Canada. Useful word.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #28
Hi John,
Interesting discussion in your reply 26.

Also, in reply 27, I too am Canadian.  While it may be a common British term, it is only in the last few years that I've seen "whinge."

I have never encountered "hingeing" or "singeing" so I can't pick up on the pronunciation of "whingeing" by reference to those terms.  Are you saying, in effect, that "whinge" rhymes with "hinge" and "singe?"

One on-line dictionary seems to indicate the expression is derived from "whine."  Another defines it as the v.i. of "to whine."  Roget's online thesaurus shows it as a synonym for "whine."

"Hyperdictionary" shows the pronunciation to be "winj," that being the case, it is not a homonym of "whine," although the expressions seem to be somewhat synonymous.

"Hyperdictionary" shows "whinge" as being an entry in Webster's 1913 dictionary, so it's obviously been around for a while.  When do you first recall noticing it in the Canadian print media?  I suspect its use is a recent affectation in our newspapers attributable to the availability of electronic dictionaries and style books.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #29
Engines may whine, but they do not whinge.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #30
"Whinge" is in constant use in OZ.
The term "wingeing pom" has been in use since before I was born (1939).
It is used as a derogatory description of UK immigants who complain about the heat, flies, spiders, sharks or other minor shortcomings in this country.
(No offence to Brits intended - I'm sure the UK/NWC users would love the heat, flies, sharks, spiders here - it's only the Aussie cricket team that you might not fancy). ;)

Barry Graham
Top Brass Events Band
Melbourne, Australia

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #31
I am about half & half on reply 26 in that I associate a note's position on the staff with what I need to do to play it, but can "name" that note when talking to other musicians.

As a violinist, 8va can make life messy.  Unlike a keyboard, every octave is not like every other.  I would associate the 4th line on the treble staff with one octave above the D string or 3rd finger in 1st position on the A--not 4th finger in 3rd position on the E.  If there is a lot going on in the music, I might just ignore the 8va indication.
Since 1998

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #32
I'm a trombone player, and I'm learning tenor clef right now.  In the piece we're playing, there's a few bars of tenor clef, and I just copied them onto a blank page with what the notes would be in bass clef (an octave down, though).

A little joke:  What's a tenor clef?  It's a bit more than niner clef, but not quite elevener clef.  (Lame, I know...)

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #33
i just started learning to play in tenor clef on the viola..and after being a cellist for about 5 years its a bit response to the previous comment about them lazy lazy cellists...well your right...we're all cool with our quarter notage and easy fingerings and what i have to be all up with it...hmm viola sucks...

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #34
...well your right...
Your right what?
Your right hand?
Your right foot?
And what's with the lower-case i for the first person singular pronoun?

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #35
...trombonists simply read the dots as though they were written in Bb pitch in treble clef... [Reply 15 by Ewan]
I think ya got that backward.
We read tenor for what it is.
It's when we get a Bb treble part thrown at us that we "pretend" it's in tenor,
and then we have to watch out for certain accidentals.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #36
My apologies, Mehan.  You are quite right - real trombonists do convert between tenor clef and Bb treble the way you say.  I forget sometimes.  Most of my playing has been in the quirky world of military/concert bands, where sensible rules no longer apply.  Now I usuaully play in theatre pits, where we can't even spell "rool".

See the last section of my reply in  This bit about older players wasn't made up - I used to sit in front of the trombone section (the curse of playing bassoon; it's always trumpets or trombones - or for a real treat - drums).  When they had tenor clef they'd simply switch to "brass band mode", all except the one younger player who didn't have a brass band background.  I suspect some of them would have preferred all their parts written in Bb treble - one euphonium player even admitted as much.

Of course, there was always that moment of mental panic when they had to discuss the notes they were playing with the conductor and either transpose back to concert, or read the notes properly!

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #37
On my side (flutist,pianist,guitarist & singer) I only use what you call "tenor clef" as a tool to easily(?) transpose, exactly as the other 6 clefs. For me the "tenor clef" is called "Clé d'ut 4", i.e. "Ut Clef on 4th line". Which obviously means that the C (Ut) is on the 4th line (counting from bottom to top). There are also Clé d'ut 3 (Alto clef), Clé d'ut 1, Clé d'ut 2...
I also used it with ancient music, where the tenor voice was written with that clef...

(Note: Ewan, I couldn't find your reply in your last post, which one is it among those?)

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #38
The original question was "What is a Tenor Clef?" and after reading through this entire dialogue, I wonder how many of you who responded with "the answer" have a clue what you think you know.  I play cello professionally with a symphony orchestra and we play in Bass, Tenor and Treble Clefs.  We are NOT "lazy, lazy cellists" who only move our hands over one string when we see Tenor Clef because we are already in 4th position on the A string and need to play notes higher so YES, WE KNOW THE NAMES OF THE NOTES!!!  We also use Tenor clef as a transition between Bass and Treble clef because it is much easier to use 3 clefs and have the notes stay in relatively the same position on the staff than to be reading at the top of the staff in Bass clef and suddenly have to jump to the bottom of the staff in Treble clef.  Bass and Treble would not work to be the only clefs used for us.  The use of Tenor and Treble clefs for the cello at least is to avoid ledger lines because too many ledger lines slows the ability to play the notes as quickly as needed.  The Tenor clef is also known as the "Movable C Clef".  The same clef symbol is used for Alto clef; it is just in a different position on the staff.  The point of the symbol determines where Middle C is.  If you learn to read your clefs, then you should not have a problem with them.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #40
The Tenor clef is also known as the "Movable C Clef".
Actually, the C clef is sometimes referred to as a movable clef because it may be placed on the 3rd line (alto [abbr=really alto staff, but that's another discussion...]clef[/abbr] or the 4th line (tenor clef), but it also maybe placed on any line of the staff (1st line = soprano clef or descant clef, 2nd line = mezzo-soprano clef, top line = baritone clef).  Historically, the G clef and the F clef were also movable at one time, so that there were 3 clefs × 5 staff lines = 15 possible clefs!  Well, 5 of those were unused or at least had no names that I could find, but that still leaves 10.
See also Reply 22 by Ray Morin-Flanagan which links to reply 22 from a different thread (weird coincidence, huh?).

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #41
Theresa, of course cello players know their notes. As any decent musician.
Thanks Ewan for the correct link :)
Agnes, yes we could possibly make 15 clefs; but try it, and you'll notice that some of them are redundant, I mean that the same position on a staff with different clefs will give the same note's name, which in fact reduces to 7 necessary clefs.
(IMHO, G clef on 1st line was called "French Violin"
Currently we (at 21th century) use only G clef on 2nd line, F clef on 3rd and 4th line, and C clef on 1,2,3,4 lines. On top line it should be F clef on 3rd line, but in some old papers it may still appear.
I learned that when trying to use a G clef on 3rd line to avoid 3 to 6 leger lines above the "soprano" clef for my highest notes on flute. My teacher then told me that a clef already existed for that: the C clef on 1st line.

You may find in some books or online info a diagram which represent all the clefs in ascending order. A small one with three clefs is here.


Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #42
Marsu, there is only one redundancy in the ten clefs I mentioned -
F clef on 3rd line and C clef on 5th line, both called Baritone Clef.
So, we should have G clef on 1st and 2nd lines,
F clef on 3rd and 4th and 5th lines,
and C clef on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th lines.
To summarize:
G1 = French violin
G1 = Treble Clef or Violin Clef
C1 = Soprano Clef or descant Clef
C2 = Mezzo-soprano Clef
C3 = Alto Clef
C4 = Tenor Clef
C5 = Baritone Clef
F3 = Baritone Clef
F4 = Bass Clef
F5 = Sub-bass Clef

- not that all of these are used any more, not even the seven you mention.
There are just the four that NWC provides, but I also use the mezzo-soprano clef to transpose horn parts (but that's just me...).

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #43
I'm only familiar with three basic clef shapes, but isn't the basic principle that each clef has some indication of what note it is anchored on?

In other words, the treble clef has a dot in the centre of the fat base, on line 2, that indicates line 2 is G.  That's why it is referred to as a G clef  Similarly, the bass clef has two dots that indicate the position of F, and is known as the F clef.  The alto and tenor clefs also seem to very clearly point to one line as being a certain note.

If I'm right, then all NWC needs to be able to do is to allow the vertical placement of the tenor/alto/etc. clef to be changed so it becomes one of the others described in the replies above.

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #44
"left crone"

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #45
The G clef (not treble clef) has a "circle and crosshairs" (not a dot in the centre of the fat base) that indicates the position of the G.  Its placement on the staff indicates that it is a treble clef.
Similarly, the F clef has two dots that indicate the position of F, and is known as the F clef.  Its placement on the staff indicates that it is a bass clef.
Also, the C clef indicates the position of C, while its placement on the staff indicates that it is a tenor or alto clef.

(I think Agnes Day meant G2 = Treble Clef or Violin Clef)

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #46
The Treble and Bass clefs are also known as the G and F clefs because of ancient manuscripts (12th through 15th century)using stylized G or stylized F to determine the placement of the notes.  At some point in the late 15th / early 16th centuries (the Late Renaissance period), these symbols were standardized and converted to what we now know as Treble and Bass clefs.  Anyone who wants more info on the development of these clefs, check out Jay Grout's "History of Western Music" (standard textbook for Music Majors' Music History classes).

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #47
Sorry, I was misviewing the treble clef in my mind's eye.  For some reason I was thinking of drawing it starting from a dot in the centre of the big lower loop and spiralling outward.

Anyway, this appears to be a reasonalbe online explanation of clefs:

Re: What is a Tenor Clef?

Reply #49
Good thing I didn't say excellent source.  I should learn to proofread too.