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What is a Clef?

One of the things that can seem most daunting about PLAYING music is learning to READ music. You might have heard terms like treble clef and bass clef thrown around with regard to reading and writing music but have no idea what to make of a page of sheet music. To the untrained eye, sheet music is essentially another language. But once you learn the basic components of sheet music, you will be that much closer to mastering the notes of the stave.

Before you can master the stave, however, it may help to learn what a stave is! The stave or “staff” is the group of five horizontal lines on which musical notation is written. The beginning of each stave on a sheet of music is marked by a symbol known as a clef. The clef is used to indicate the pitch and range of notes for that stave. Learning the different clefs and their corresponding meanings is the first step to reading sheet music.

Learning to Read Music

Music symbols

For the most part, sheet music for any instrument will feature two clefs: the treble clef (or G clef) and the bass clef (or F clef). Some instruments such as the viola also use a C clef, though this is much rarer than the other two types. The treble clef is used for notes that are suitable for soprano and alto instruments such as the violin or piano, while the bass clef indicates a series of notes is more appropriate for tenor and bass instruments like the cello. The C clef can be either alto or tenor and will be delineated by the clef’s placement on the stave. Learning to identify these clefs will allow you to pick music that is suitable for your instrument and correctly interpret the notes on the page.

Follow Along

Once you have learned the meaning of different clefs, you are on your way to sight reading sheet music. Any local music store will have a variety of sheet music and instructional materials for beginners, but some people prefer digital sheet music as well. Whether you prefer digital sheet music or hard copies, Johnson String Instrument has everything you need to get started.

Additional Resources

Carriage House Violins

Located in Newton, Massachusetts, Carriage House Violins is the instrument sales division of Johnson String Instrument.

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Whether searching for a job, learning about the "Mozart Effect," looking for a summer music camp, or choosing the right instrument string, you need look no further.

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Johnson String Project

A charitable foundation whose goal is to provide high-quality instruments to children who live in under-served communities and who are participating in El-Sistema-inspired programs in Massachusetts.

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