MUS 111 Study Guide H (Chapter 8)

C Clefs; Transposing Instruments

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  1. The C clef is used extensively in music, though not as often as the treble and bass clefs.  The line passing through the middle of the C clef sign indicates the location of Middle C (c1) on the staff.  It is particularly useful for certain instruments in avoiding excessive leger lines.

  1. When the C clef is found on the middle line of the staff, it is known as the alto clef–used almost exclusively by the viola, and occasionally by the trombone.

  1. When the C clef is found on the fourth line (bottom line is one; top line is five) of the staff, it is known as the tenor clef–often used by cello, bassoon and trombone in the upper registers of these instruments, again to minimize leger lines.

  1. A Clef for the Tenor Voice:  In order to minimize the use of leger lines, the clef used for the tenor voice resembles the treble clef, but with the number 8 beneath it. This indicates that the notation is an octave higher than the performance pitch.  It is called the octave treble clef.

  1. Non-transposing Instruments:  These are instruments which sound the notated pitch they are playing, though sometimes displaced by an octave (higher or lower).  Non-transposing (concert pitch) instruments include:  piccolo (sounds 8va–octave higher); flute; oboe; bassoon; trombone; euphonium; tuba; xylophone (sounds 8va); marimba; orchestra bells (sounds two octaves higher); vibraphone; celesta (sounds 8va); violin; viola; cello; string bass (sounds octave lower); harp; guitar (sounds octave lower); piano.

  1. Transposing Instruments:  These are instruments which sound a different concert pitch than is notated.  The transposition may differ by only a step or by more than an octave.  Transposing instruments include:  English horn (sounds P5 lower), Bb clarinet (sounds M2 lower), bass clarinet (sounds M9 lower), Eb alto saxophone (sounds M6 lower), Bb tenor saxophone (sounds M9 lower), Eb baritone saxophone (sounds octave + M6 lower); horn in F (sounds P5 lower), Bb trumpet (sounds M2 lower), baritone (treble clef) (sounds M9 lower).  A transposing instrument sounds the name of its key when the instrument plays a C.  Thus, the Bb clarinet sounds a Bb when it plays a C.  The Eb alto sax sounds an Eb when it plays a C.

  1. In addition to the more commonly-encountered transposing instruments, certain instrument families also include instruments in other keys, such as:  A clarinet, C trumpet, Eb horn; there are many more.  Since the A clarinet, for example, sounds a minor third lower, it must be notated a minor third higher than the desired sound.

  1. Why all the various keys for instruments of the same family??  Why don’t the various instruments simply use fingerings which would be equivalent to concert pitch??  Glad you asked.  This enables a saxophonist, for example, to be able to switch to any instrument of the saxophone family, whether in Bb or Eb, and be able to use the same fingerings on each instrument.

*See Menu for individual study guides dealing with Instrument Ranges and Transpositions and Foreign Names for Instruments.

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