If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:3:25

Lesson 6: Alto and tenor clefs.

Video transcript

- [Instructor] There are two more clefs that are commonly used, if not as much as the treble and bass clefs. They are the tenor and the alto clef. Let's first look at the alto clef. The primary use for this clef now is for the viola. It is often referred to as the viola clef. Like all clefs, it was originally used for a particular range of the voice. The treble clef is for the treble voice. The alto clef is for the alto voice. The tenor clef for the tenor voice. The bass clef for the bass voice. There are other clefs that are not used in modern notations corresponding to the other vocal ranges, such as soprano clef, mezzo-soprano clef, and baritone clef. The focal point of the alto clef is on the third line. The note on the third line is a middle C corresponding to the middle C in the treble clef and bass clef. These notes are all the same note, just notated on different clefs. The other instrument that will on occasion use the alto clef is the trombone. The tenor clef is also a C clef, and its focal point on middle C is on the fourth line. This clef is used for any bass instrument playing in its high range so that the use of many ledger lines can be avoided. If you look at the first page of the score of the last movement of the Beethoven Fifth Symphony, we see that the three trombones are notated in alto, tenor, and bass clefs. And we can also see that the violas are notated in alto clef. I've mentioned that notating with many ledger lines can be very difficult to read. That is why the cello, which is generally notated in bass clef, can be notated in tenor and treble clef if a passive is extended with too many ledger lines from the bass clef. Let's look at the opening of Sam Jones's Cello Concerto. The solo cello part begins in bass clef, and at the end of this little passage, it moves to treble clef. What we have are three A's, one on the bass clef, which is on the top line, and then two in the treble clef. Let's listen to this passage. ("Concerto of Violoncello and Orchestra" by Sam Jones) Now let's look at a passage in the third movement of the Jones concerto that uses the tenor clef. The last note of the second bar on F sharp uses two ledger lines in the bass clef. The next bar begins with exactly the same note, but this time, it's in tenor clef, eliminating the need for ledger lines. ("Concerto of Violoncello and Orchestra" by Sam Jones)