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I got thinking about this when recently someone new to the piano told us that they are used to reading the treble clef due to other instruments they play, but unfamiliar with the bass clef. Some of the advice suggested playing music "for the left hand". The advice to play bass clef music if you are weak in reading bass clef music is sound. But the "left hand" part is thing that might be worth looking at.

Very often, piano music we get, especially at the beginning, has right hand notes written in the treble clef, and left hand notes in the bass clef. The top staff is generally for the right hand, the bottom staff for the left hand, and two staves joined together for piano music. The bass clef holds the gamut of notes that are "lower", while the treble clef holds the notes that are "higher". On the piano, the further left you go, the lower the notes, and vice versa. So it makes sense that the left hand plays lower notes, the right hand plays higher notes, and you tend to see treble clef for RH, bass clef for LH.

However: Piano music uses the entire range of the keyboard. It can happen that music for both hands play relatively high notes, above middle C, and while the LH still generally plays lower notes than the RH, they are high notes, and the LH music will be written in the treble clef. You can also have both hands playing really low notes, and the RH music will use a bass clef as well. You can even have the hands crossing briefly but that's getting too complicated.

The point is that the bass clef is meant for a range of notes that are "low" and thus easily represented on that clef; the treble clef is for a range of notes that are "high" and ditto ..... and the clefs do not represent hands - only a range of notes. The problem is that when we start with an idea, that's what we internalize. It is probably better to know from the onset that clefs don't represent which hand plays what.

Thoughts?

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Originally Posted by keystring
.....The point is that the bass clef is meant for a range of notes that are "low" and thus easily represented on that clef; the treble clef is for a range of notes that are "high" and ditto ..... and the clefs do not represent hands - only a range of notes. The problem is that when we start with an idea, that's what we internalize. It is probably better to know from the onset that clefs don't represent which hand plays what.

Thoughts?
Yes, everyone needs to know that the bass clef isn't for the left hand only, nor the treble for the right hand only, and that melody isn't restricted to the treble clef and harmonization to the bass clef.

Starting out, however, one will be playing LH/bass clef and RH/treble, and melody in the RH and harmony in the LH. They might think that that is 'normal' (and it is in fact common, in beginner music, at any rate), but it doesn't seem to me that most students would internalize that on a permanent basis, given that they will soon experience otherwise.


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It is easy to get in that mindset but we did simple LH crossover fairly soon in the beginning lessons with video online and in Alfreds. As @Stubbie said above, I didn’t internalize it.


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When a pianist first plays a piece where the LH plays notes in the treble clef or RH plays notes in the bass clef, they will realize that the LH doesn't always play notes only in the bass clef. At that point it will become obvious. IOW much ado about nothing.

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Originally Posted by Stubbie
Starting out, however, one will be playing LH/bass clef and RH/treble, and melody in the RH and harmony in the LH. They might think that that is 'normal' (and it is in fact common, in beginner music, at any rate), but it doesn't seem to me that most students would internalize that on a permanent basis, given that they will soon experience otherwise.

It will be interesting to read from our fellow ABFers or even teachers way past that stage, what their experiences were. For example, did you indeed "soon" get into music where you didn't constantly have the clefs in those configurations. Was it jarring, needing an adjustment? Do you have to fight the original internalization, if there was one?

I know there are a few teachers who switch clefs very early, using their own material. I also know that some early books, such as a beginner Czerny and another old German book, started with treble clef in both hands, then bass clef in both hands, and only introduced having two different clefs afterward.

One might also ponder how the original advice came about, where folks automatically talked about "left hand music" when they meant "bass clef music".

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
When a pianist first plays a piece where the LH plays notes in the treble clef or RH plays notes in the bass clef, they will realize that the LH doesn't always play notes only in the bass clef. At that point it will become obvious. IOW much ado about nothing.

I don't appreciate the dismissive attitude of "much ado about nothing". This thread is about learning, and therefore teaching. The choices that learners, and that teachers, make, have an effect. Some teachers I have talked to have found this important. I also find this important.
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Originally Posted by dobro
It is easy to get in that mindset but we did simple LH crossover fairly soon in the beginning lessons with video online and in Alfreds. As @Stubbie said above, I didn’t internalize it.

I'm glad to learn that this was done in the two resources you mentioned. smile

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The only problem with recommending music for LH alone is that it is generally too difficult for the OP. The fact that some of the notes might not be in the bass clef is not a problem.

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I gave my wife a few piano lessons until we got her a real teacher. She is a clarinet player, treble clef only. But on clarinet, there is also just one way to finger a particular note (OK, there are alternate fingerings for some notes, but let's don't complicate things). So it freaked her out when I told her any finger could play any note, it all depends on the context... Two years later, and a lot of lessons from a really good teacher (not me) and she is amazing me with how well she is doing - even in the bass clef.

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No, I originally advised LH music and Bennevis also suggested it. I was well aware, as I’m sure he was, that some of the notes will be in the treble clef. I still considered it to be a good bass clef exercise. In addition, it is a good exercise for the LH, regardless of the clef. I’m sure the OP will recognize, when she opens up the score, that some notes are played in the treble clef; it is obvious

I played some music for the LH alone when I felt like my LH was being lazy (even though it is theoretically my predominant hand). I don’t understand the concern with this as one exercise to facilitate reading the bass clef. If the OP doesn’t find it useful, my feelings will not be hurt.

It is jut one option and a MUSICAL ONE in that you end up with a nice score that you can play.


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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
The only problem with recommending music for LH alone is that it is generally too difficult for the OP. The fact that some of the notes might not be in the bass clef is not a problem.

That is a very good point, that music for the LH might be complex and thus too difficult.

What I clued into was the fact that when an issue was highlighted about bass clef several solutions talked about left hand, and that suggested that one might be inclined to equate the clef with the hand. In fact, a few teachers have told me of transfer students who come in thinking that. So if that association exists, it seemed a good idea to put this out as a topic. If anyone here, at the point of their journey is caught out in "left hand = bass clef = left hand", then it's handy to see this thread, maybe. smile

Thinking about this part:
Quote
The fact that some of the notes might not be in the bass clef is not a problem.

Well, it also would not be a solution for learning to read bass clef notes. Mixing the two this early would probably also not be a good strategy, because you are sorting out two different hands as well as two different clefs, as well as (generally) associating the top staff with one hand, the bottom staff with the other hand.

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I think "LH" pieces are suggested because, statistically--in practice--much of the music for the left hand will be written in the bass clef. You will get more bang for the buck in music written for the left hand.

For someone just starting out and wanting to practice reading in the bass clef, yes, LH music will likely be too difficult. They will probably have to bite the bullet and play the bass clef of music written on the grand staff . The bass clef will probably be the harmonization and will not be as interesting, musically, as the melody in the treble clef.

Originally Posted by keystring
@Dogperson - the main thing is what a person may end up understanding from what we write, when they are new. If I'm trying to learn piano for the first time, and I have a problem with the bass clef, and left hand music is suggested to me, and I probably see bass clef and LH together in music, I may come to the conclusion that bass clef = LH. Since I'm also told that students come in mixed up about that, I thought it a good idea to bring this fact out in the open - rather than hoping people probably get it.
A child might be confused, but I don't think an adult reading this forum (and especially one curious and serious enough to ask here) would be in much danger of internalizing that the treble clef is for the LH only.


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Stubbie is right: an adult will not be confused. All they need to do is open up a score for the LH to see that some of the notes will also be in the treble clef. He:she may not like it or may find it too difficult, but there will be no confusion.

All a student needs to do is look at one score !


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I don’t know when I first encountered RH in bass clef and/or LH in treble clef, and/or hands crossed. Not early. I’d probably been playing (self-taught) for several years before I first met them.

I didn’t find it confusing at all.

But it may be different for other people.

Generally I don’t have a problem with learning things that are perhaps oversimplified at first, and later learning the more complex version. People vary in this regard, though.

Last edited by PianoStudent88; 01/08/20 09:08 PM. Reason: Sort out my right from my left.

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If you play duets on the piano, i.e. one piano / four hands, the person playing the bass almost always has both hands playing on the bass clef(s).

As for easier music, I have seen duet books where the bass and the treble are quite simple.


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It's generally pedagogically not to give a student everything one knows about a topic or possible exceptions to some idea in the beginning. So in the beginning it could be argued that thinking that the bass clef is the left hand clef is a good approach.

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Learning from middle C out (or down/up) helped me to understand it better than as separate things. (Whew, I hope that makes sense)


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Originally Posted by rocket88
If you play duets on the piano, i.e. one piano / four hands, the person playing the bass almost always has both hands playing on the bass clef(s).

As for easier music, I have seen duet books where the bass and the treble are quite simple.
Yes! Duet books. Good suggestion.


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Originally Posted by Stubbie
Originally Posted by rocket88
If you play duets on the piano, i.e. one piano / four hands, the person playing the bass almost always has both hands playing on the bass clef(s).

As for easier music, I have seen duet books where the bass and the treble are quite simple.
Yes! Duet books. Good suggestion.


Indeed it is! There will be some sections where the Secundo will have the melody so it won’t be horribly boring
I bought Nikolas’ duet book ‘Fairyland in Treble’ as a present for my piano teacher. Really fun pieces but not overwhelming. Disclaimer: the RH also plays in the bass clef 🙄
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3e2AEfDCsfo


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Since I played very little beginner music when I started piano as an adult, I used both clefs rather equally from the start and skipped this upper clef RH, lower clef LH phase. But somehow I always manage to miss the clef changes when reading and only notice when the harmonies start sounding weird. I find it easier to read music where the notes are just written on the two clefs no matter what hand plays what and even with many ledger lines. So It is clear that I am used to seeing the two clefs as a continuum rather than separate. It's been a real nightmare to try to read the bas clef alone after I started the cello. It feels like something is missing all the time. I would feel much more comfortable if the upper clef was there, even if left empty...
So no surprise I hate duet books frown

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