Clefs

Clef is a french word which means Key. Clef is the first element you will see on the staff united states of america (stave united kingdom), clefs are symbols that determine the positions of the notes on the staff, so that determine the names of the music notes.

Blank staff and staff with a clef

Clefs indicate the names of the music notes on the staff

Different clefs indicate the names of the music notes on the staff, so a music note on the first line of the staff is not always the E note, it can be a C note, a D note, it depends on the clef. Without clefs, you cannot determine the names of music notes, we will see it later, don't panic.

There is three kinds of clef: G-clef, F-clefs and C-clefs

Treble clef (G-clef)F-clefsC-clefs
treble clefF-clefC-clef

Clefs are like families, there are several kinds of clef in each family:

  • 1 kind of G-clef: Treble clef.
  • 2 kinds of F-clefs: Bass clef and baritone clef.
  • 4 kinds of C-clefs: Tenor clef, alto clef, mezzo-soprano clef and soprano clef
FamiliesKinds of
treble clefTreble clef
Treble clef
F clefBass clef
Bass clef
Baritone clef
Baritone clef
C clefTenor clef
Tenor clef
Alto clef
Alto clef
Mezzo-soprano clef
Mezzo-soprano clef
Soprano clef
Soprano clef

Most common clefs are the treble clef (G-clef) and the bass clef (one of the two kind of F-clefs). For example, the piano use those two clefs:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

G-clefs families

Treble clef

Nowadays there is only one kind of G-clef, the treble clef determines the position of the G note on the staff:

Position of the G note with the treble clef

F-clefs families

There is two kind of F-clef.

Bass clef

Bass clef determines the position of the F note on the staff:

F note position in bass clef

Baritone clef

Baritone clef determines the position of the F note on the staff:

F note position in baritone clef

C-clefs families

There is four kind of C-clef.

Tenor clef

Tenor clef determines the position of the C note on the staff:

tenor clef

Alto clef

Alto clef determines the position of the C note on the staff:


alto clef

Mezzo-soprano clef

Mezzo-soprano clef determines the position of the C note on the staff:

Mezzo soprano clef

Soprano clef

Soprano clef determines the position of the C note on the staff:

Soprano clef

Which clefs for which instruments?

In most of the cases, instruments use only one clef, but when sounds become too low or too high, others clefs can be used to avoid too much ledger lines (additional lines above or below the staff).
For the piano, the harp and other polyphonic instruments, two clefs are used (usually treble clef and bass clef).

Instruments in treble clef (G-clef)

The treble clef is principally used by:

  • Piano, harp, harpsichord, organ, accordion (right hand)
  • Oboe, flute, clarinet
  • Horn, trumpet, euphonium, saxhorn
  • Violin
  • Guitar

Instruments in bass clef

The bass clef (F-clef on the fourth line of the staff is principally used by:

  • Piano, harp, harpsichord, organ, accordion (right hand and foot for the organ)
  • Bassoon and fagot
  • Trombone, tuba, euphonium, saxhorn
  • Cello, double bass

Instruments in tenor clef

The tenor clef (C-clef) on the fourth line of the staff) is used by the following instruments:

  • Cello (in the high register)
  • Double bass (in the high register)
  • Trombone (in the high register)
  • Bassoon (in the high register)

Instruments in alto clef


The alto clef (C-clef on the third line of the staff) is principally used by:

  • Viola

Instruments in mezzo-soprano clef

Mezzo-soprano clef is only used for transposition and for instruments that need to transpose.

Instruments in soprano clef

Soprano clef is only used for transposition and for instruments that need to transpose.

Neutral clef

Neutral clef, also called rhythm clef or percussion clef, is not really a clef, it is used for percussion instruments with no precise pitch, like for the drum notation.

Here is a neutral clef:

neutral clef

And here is example of a drum score:


Test your knowledge



Clefs are used for:

Clefs indicate the position of the notes. Without clefs , you cannot determine the names of music notes.

  • open the doors
  • indicate the position of the rhythms
  • indicate the position of the notes
  • nothing
  • start the car


What is another name for G clef?

The treble clef is a G-clef that indicates the position of the G note.

  • Normal clef
  • Big clef
  • Treble clef
  • Bass clef
  • The only clef


The treble clef indicates the position of the C note.

The treble clef (G-clef) indicates the position of the G note.

  • true
  • false
  • sometimes
  • it depends

Others articles from this category:

Treble clef (G-clef)

Treble clef (G-clef)

Article about the treble clef (G-clef). Description and usage of the treble clef and how to draw it. All you want to know about the treble clef.

F-clefs

F-clefs

Article about the F clefs. Description and usage of the F-clefs and how to draw them: Learn how to use the bass clef and the baritone clef

C-clefs

C-clefs

Article about the C clefs. Description and usage of the C-clefs and how to draw them: Learn how to use the soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and the alto clef.

Relation between clefs

Relation between clefs

Learn the relation between all the clefs and know why. The most important relation is the relation between treble clef and bass clef.

Octaves clefs

Octaves clefs

Article about Octaves clefs. Octave clefs are used to write music notes that will sound an octave lower or an octave higher. Learn how to use them.


External links to learn more about :

1 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clef
2 - https://www.dolmetsch.com/musictheory1.htm
3 - https://musicterms.artopium.com/c/Clef.htm


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