Alto clef

The alto clef determines the position of the C note on the staff united states of america (stave united kingdom):

alto clef

From this reference, all others music notes will be placed before and after the C note:

notes positions in alto clef

What instruments use the alto clef?


The alto clef was used for the contralto voices (lower women voices), that's why this clef is called alto clef.

Nowadays the alto clef is used by:

Strings instruments:

  • Viola
  • Viola da gamba

Brass instruments:

  • Alto trombone

Alto clef and transposition

The alto clef is also used for transposition, useful for some players and conductors.

Example of using the alto clef to transpose:

Imagine that you are a clarinetist, so you play a transposing instrument and your instrument is in B flat, and imagine that you want to play a flute score (the flute is in C). So you are in B flat and you want to play in C: You will have to raise all the notes by one whole step united states of america (tone united kingdom), because between B flat and UT is one tone. By mentally substituting the treble clef of the flute score by an alto clef, you can transpose at sight the score:

Alto clef for transposition

You must also transpose the key by adding two sharps.

Key signatures in alto clef

Here are positions of flats and sharps in the key signature on the staff with a alto clef:

Key signature with an alto clef

Evolution of the C-clef symbol

In the book A history of music by Charles Villiers Stanford and Cecil Forsyth, a representation of the evolution of the C-clef clef symbol is exposed (source):

Evolution of the C-clef symbol

Learn to read alto clef

Here is a game to learn alto clef notes:

Find all my music theory games by clicking this link music theory games
music theory games

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