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Playing Tenor Clef

QUESTION

Thanks for your help with the fiddling music. I called Shar and found that they had a book with Celtic tunes and another with Irish tunes and so I ordered them. They did have the 48 Folk Songs for Strings but I was intrigued by these other two and so ordered them. I'll let you know what I think about them when they come

I have another question. I would like to know if you have any advice on how to learn (memorize or whatever) the tenor cleff? I know the bass and treble but when i see the tenor I always think bass and then move up. I thought maybe there was a way to learn the tenor cleff so that I would know right away what note to play when I see it rather than "translate". I haven't played much with it and when I do I have written in the note names which is probably not the right way.

ANSWER:

I hope my explanation below is more helpful than confusing. :)

The bass clef and the tenor clef are a "perfect fifth apart," which means that they are five notes apart. For example, the top line of the staff in bass clef is an A; the top line in tenor clef is an E. (Count the notes from A to E, ie. A-B-C-D-E is five notes apart, or a perfect fifth.) The middle line in bass clef is a D; the middle line in tenor clef is an A. (Count the notes from D to A, ie. D-E-F-G-A is five notes apart, or a perfect fifth). Note that the center of the tenor clef sign, which indicates middle C, is located on F in bass cleff. F and C are a fifth apart, ie. F-G-A-B-C.

A perfect fifth on the staff is three staff lines apart, or three spaces apart. For example, the open D is on the third or middle line of the bass clef staff, and the A is on the fifth or top line of the staff. E on the D string is in the third space on the bass clef staff. B on the A string, a perfect fifth higher, is one space above the top line or three staff spaces above the E.

This is all leading the trick I used to use, believe it or not. If you can mentally shift the tenor cleff notes three lines or three spaces up, or you can think in terms of a perfect fifth higher, you will find the note you need.

Fortunately, our instruments are tuned in perfect fifths, which means that you can read the notes as if in bass clef, but play on the next higher string. This approach only works if the written tenor clef notes are below the top line of the staff, where you would play in first position on the A string instead of the D string. Anything above the top line would require us to have an E string, which we don't of course.

I hope this helps.

Tim Janof

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ICS Staff
Tim Janof, ICS Director
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