Glossary - Clefs

• Jun 22, 2022 - 17:30

The Glossary entry for Clefs reads

Sign at the beginning of a →staff, used to tell which are the musical notes on the lines and between the lines.
Clefs are very useful for →transposition."

That last bit is wrong. Transposition means changing pitches. Clefs don't change pitches they just determine where those pitches appear on the stave. Clefs have nothing to do with transposition.

I tried to edit the page but after deleting that line, the preview seemed to show a huge section had disappeared - up to "Note Entry" - and so I chickened out.


There are octave transposing instruments, which use clefs with an 8 below or above. And different clefs in concert pitch vs. sounding pitch. So that sentenence is not completly wrong

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

The 8 below or above indicates that they are not the same as clefs without them. They are different clefs. Middle C shows up on the second space down when it is preceded by a treble clef with a hanging 8. In the same way it shows up on the middle line when preceded by an alto clef and on a ledger line above the stave when preceded by a bass clef. But whichever clef is used, the pitch of the note is the same. It is not transposed.

Saying that clefs "are useful for transposition" gives false hope to the unaware.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

How are they used for transposing? Suppose you have a treble clef part. There is a middle C. You change the clef to treble with hanging 8. The note moves from on the ledger line below the stave to the second space down from the top. The pitch is the same; there is no transposition. Instead of the hanging 8 treble clef you change to alto clef. The note moves to the middle line. The pitch is the same; there is no transposition.

In reply to by SteveBlower

It's a different way of thinking abut transposing, but indeed, these clefs are often referred to as transposing clefs (e.g., see Gould, who refers to them as "octave-transposing clefs"), because they have the effect of making it appear that the music has been transposed an octave. So for instance, take guitar, where the highest string "E" is normally written in the top space of the treble clef, even though it actually sounds an octave lower. You can achieve this effect one of two ways - by using regular treble clef and setting the transposition to sound an octave lower, or by using the treble-8 clef. Two different ways of achieve the same effect: octave transposition.

It's not incorrect to point this out, but it's misleading indeed to suggest that clefs in general have a role in transposing other than these specific clefs in the specific case of octave transposition.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

Jojo wrote "that sentenence is not completly wrong"

It would be nice if the sentence was completely correct.

Initially I'd substitute the word "space" for "between the lines":

a)  it's common parlance to say "space" rather than "between the lines".

b) when a note is on the space directly above the top staff line or ledger line, or a note directly below the bottom staff line or ledger line, the term "between the lines" fails its mission.

I also think the entry for Clef could be succinctly more complete. A clef assigns a pitch class (and octave) to a particular line*, and all the letter names of all other lines and spaces are relative to that. For instance the treble clef is a G clef and assigns the G pitch class to the second staff line (from the bottom.)

  * I don't think there are any clefs that define the pitch class of a space. Are there?

And I think mention of transposition should go into a Transposition entry. I don't think it helps to clarify what a clef is or what it does.

In reply to by SteveBlower

Actually, as per my reply above, that's not really true - the octave-transposing clefs do have a role in transposing, and in fact are pretty much required for octave-transposing instruments in concert pitch mdoe. That is, it's all well and good to have contrabasses set to sound an octave below when concert pitch is off, but when turned on, suddenly you've got a ton of ledger lines - unless you use the octave-transposing clef on the concert pitch score. Which is precisely what MuseScore does by default. So this actually good information for people to know when reading about transposition - that when using octave transposition, they should probably also use the octave-transposing clefs for the concert pitch score.

If we want the link to transposition in there it maybe could be formulated along the lines of:
Some transposing instruments make use of octave transposing clefs

Though I agree with simply dropping the mention.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

Nicely done. Thanks.

Any idea what was going wrong when I tried to edit that entry? I used the three dots to open the page for editing, highlighted only the "offending" line and pressed delete. Then when I used the preview button the page had a big chunk missing. The next entry after clefs was "Note Entry".

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