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Thread: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

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    Registered User J.C. Bryant's Avatar
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    Default i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    I do not play in any orchestras or anything like that. I just try to play more simple stuff, hymns and music from fake books or maybe some fiddle tunes. I am also trying to learn to read the alto clef for mandola. But I have to tell you, for an untrained person some of this clef stuff can be hard and confusing. I would like to know the disadvantage of playing mandola from the treble clef, like it was a tenor banjo. thank you and I apologize if this is a really shallow qustion.

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    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    The 'disadvantage' is that the mandola is lower in pitch. So most of the notes are below the treble staff on ledger lines. (and that is where the alto clef lives...).

    This is hard and confusing if you try to learn both alto and treble at once. There is a 'work around' however or at least a sane way to approach the issue.

    Learn the treble clef first because many people who write stuff for tenor banjo and tenor guitar, write in treble clef assuming the the reader just plays it an octave below. Guitar music is often written this way too. The notes that come out of the instrument are actually not what is written. (they would be on ledger lines or the alto clef).
    Hope this helps.
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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    The more you read ANY written music in various clefs, the easier it gets.

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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    Quote Originally Posted by DougC View Post
    The 'disadvantage' is that the mandola is lower in pitch. So most of the notes are below the treble staff on ledger lines. (and that is where the alto clef lives...).
    Short answer: the music that you like to play is usually easier to find written in treble clef, so learn how to play mandola from treble clef.

    Long answer: the notes in each clef are tied to a specific octave, since technically, sheet music connects with the range of the piano. Bass clef and treble clef started as one massive staff, which is why the C on the line above the bass staff and the C on the line below the treble staff are the same pitch. By pitch, alto clef lies in the middle of those two staffs combined. So, visually, it looks like alto clef just shifts each note down a slot from treble, but technically, it shifts it down lots more than that.

    For example, on the treble clef, the space right below the staff is a D. That represents the pitch of the mandolin’s open D string, which by octave is D4. On a mandolin, you have all the notes of the G string below that, but on mandola, you also have all the notes of the C string, which is why Doug said that most of the mandola’s notes are below the staff.

    The workaround is to ignore the octave issue and map out the music for wherever it works best in the mandola’s range, which, as Doug said, will usually be the octave below the mandolin.
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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    Quote Originally Posted by Marcus CA View Post
    Long answer: the notes in each clef are tied to a specific octave, since technically, sheet music connects with the range of the piano. Bass clef and treble clef started as one massive staff, which is why the C on the line above the bass staff and the C on the line below the treble staff are the same pitch. By pitch, alto clef lies in the middle of those two staffs combined.
    Exactly.

    Plus, the C clef is moveable - any line on the staff can be middle C by placing the c clef where you want it. Mostly, it's the alto and tenor clef that uses the c clef.

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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    The only published music for 10-string mandolin (GCDAE) is by Hamilton de Holanda, and he uses treble clef throughout. The low C is four ledge lines down, not really a big deal.

    As noted, clefs accommodate the staff, and violas always had to put up with composers who switch us from alto to treble and back in a few notes, just avoid bumping into the 2nd violin line in the score. With computer engraving, we started getting parts with no treble clef passages, and found it was actually really hard to read four and five ledger lines up, although violins do it regularly.

    As David says, it gets easier to read. Reading is really the easiest part of playing music. Simply do a lot and you get good at it.
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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Wright View Post
    The only published music for 10-string mandolin (GCDAE) is by Hamilton de Holanda, and he uses treble clef throughout. The low C is four ledge lines down, not really a big deal...
    -typo I believe, the 10 string is usually (CGDAE).

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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    This chart might help.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Clef comparison.pdf  
    Last edited by DougC; Jul-19-2020 at 2:34pm. Reason: Please check for accuracy folks!
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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    Quote Originally Posted by DougC View Post
    This chart might help.
    Well done!

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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    Thank you all so much! MC = amazing resource. Blessings, J.C. Bryant

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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    I always recommend reading clefs as is; I found gimmicky work-arounds such as "Alto clef is like G clef but one note lower" or something like that just as confusing as learning the new clef. Marcus and others are correct when they say each clef implies a specific octave* or range, and although you don't see it much, any clef can be stuck on a line to accommodate the range--hence the tenor clef thing. I have seen European choral music with G (treble) clefs on the first line to suit a high soprano part. And with an orchestral score, you have instruments tuned to Bb, Eb and other pitches that will look like they are in a completely different key. For the most part, the bass (F), alto (C) and treble (G) clefs are on their usual lines.
    My suggestion is to learn the alto clef (if that's the one giving you trouble) by reading and playing simple scales. C being in the center line, it's better to start with G, A, and F (with the correct key signature), so you don't go off the staff into ledger lines right away. Then try some simple tunes (please not Mary had a little Lamb!!) in thealto clef. Most music software will quickly change clefs and move the notes to the different lines and spaces. All of this takes practice, and if you're just playing for fun, it might sound too serious, and yeah I'm a teacher, but for me, the work-arounds handicap you from learning and understanding what is actually on the page.

    *I play mandocello, so bass clef; an exception (which I find annoying) is the so-called universal clef used in a lot of early-to-mid 20th century classical music. It is the G clef, sometimes with a hatch-mark or two, implying you play in the lower octave(s). This violates the whole idea stated earlier that the clef implies the range.

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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    There are many ways to understand music notation. One can get lost when there are so many variables. So it is important to define your situation and your tactics.

    In my case I often become like a kid and a candy store. And after getting over an upset stomach, my approach becomes more practical and I chose fewer options. (I do learn which candy I like best, however).
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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    Don't try to learn these two at once. If you MUST learn two clefs at once, do treble and bass as they complement each other. But this is really only useful for piano players.

    Alto lies between treble and bass, overlapping both. (There's also a tenor clef that does the same although its overlay is different.)

    Better still to just try learning one clef at a time.

    Like others here, I'll recommend treble first, since it is far more common. About the only instruments that even use alto clef are viola, mandola and alto trombone. Most people who can read alto begin with treble and then move down once they've mastered it. In my case, I had been reading treble for five years before I tackled alto.
    Last edited by collingwest; Jul-25-2020 at 1:27pm. Reason: misspelled word

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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    Quote Originally Posted by DougC View Post
    This chart might help.
    Thank you Doug C for the chart.
    I can't see it. Would you be so kind as to send it to me via PM or send a link. Perhaps your chart may be beneficial to my handicap. I struggle with Alto Clef as well. Orchestra material is transposed for mandola players that need it so no problem there. Playing in other genres with people that do not read music but instead are blessed with a natural or trained ear is where my deficiency manifests itself.
    I play my mandola with the same fingering as a mandolin and generally save the mandola for solo play. When playing with others I have no problem transposing chords for rhythm play. I can't say the same for transposing melody, so I don't do it and reach for the mandolin. I would like to become as proficient at transposing melody as I am at chords but thus far it just isn't happening. Any tool that may help me with this would be much welcomed.
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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    O.K. THIS chart might help.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: i am having problems with "clefs" again. Treble or alto

    I think the advice is good ot learn one clef, treble first and well, then bass (piano notation), then alto isn't that hard, middle C is right on the middle line like you extracted out the middle of the piano grand staff. Tenor clef is tricky but a lot more common than alto.
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