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I probably should know this since I´m a pianist, but I recently turned teacher and have to answer to stuff now, and I just cant figure it out, is there a good reason why the bass clef is in F and not just a lower G, like the treble clef? Wouldnt it make more sense and be easier to read for young students? Any ideas are welcome:-)

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I think the answer lies in how music notation developed. Originally, they started out with what I think was an early version of Tenor clef, then as the music grew to become polyphonic (starting with parallel organum and such) in order to accommodate different vocal ranges. The clef was placed in an area where most of the notes used in that voice type would lie. It makes no sense to piano or keyboard instruments, but since they didn't really kick off until early Baroque, after the notation had already been around a while, it stuck that way.


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To me the answer might be that you have middle C smack dab in the middle of both clefs (as well as on the keyboard.) If you go five steps up your at G (dominant of C.) If you go down five steps you are at F (sub-dominanant of C.) C is tonic.

It is symetric this way and makes mathematical sense when thinking Circle of Fifths. Remember the piano is a C instrument.

This is my reasoning anyways on why.

One other thing the bass is not in F, it is just called the F clef because of where the clef sign symbol is located on the staff (the two dots go around the line that F sits on.) Same with the treble clef sign, its tail swirls around the line that G sits on, thus calling it the G Clef.

It would look quite awkward to have the bass clef sign go where the lower G is or it would be impossible to have it go where the high bass G is because it is a space note.


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It's also symmetrical to the eye. G with its curlicue wrapping around the line hugs the first line in from the staff up from middle C, and F targets the first line in from the staff down from middle C. You're looking straight up and down from middle C at the first available line which isn't the outer edge of the staff, like two bull's eyes.

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I will try to explain.

Picture in your mine or draw a LARGE staff.

It will have the 5 lines of the Treble clef, one long line in the middle that will later become the smaller leger line, 'Middle C', and 5 lines of the Bass clef. So 11 lines in all. All equidistant from each other.

That would be hard to read notes from, yes?


To help make reading easier, separate this large staff into two staffs of 5 -
the top 5 lines and the bottom 5 lines become separated making a small 'leger' line to denote the Middle C.

That makes things easier to read.

All notes going up from Middle C become the Teble clef. All notes going down from Middle C become the Bass Clef.

Each staff has a set of names according to their interval or distance from Middle C.

The reason we call them G clef or F clef is because that is the name which falls on 2 lines UP or 2 lines DOWN from Middle C.

Two line up from middle c is G
Two lines down from middle c is F

===========================================

I tend to think of reading music by intervals and relationships:

Middle C is on a line. Each Line going up is a Skip. An actual SKIP of a note on the keyboard.

Line, line, line, line, line, named notes are: E, G, B, D, F. These are the names of line notes on the G clef (treble) staff.

Like wise lines going down from Middle C are: A, F, D, B, G. The names of the notes of F clef. However, we usually memorize these as notes from bottom to top - G B D F A.

IF ONE CONTINUES FROM LINE TO LINE OR SPACE TO SPACE FROM WHERE EVER, going up, - It continues the saying:

G B D, F A C E, G B D, F A C E.

No matter where you start! Try it!

I will be happy to elaborate further if one asks.

LL


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Further to Morodiene's point, if you look at old, square notation of plainchant, you can see the C clef, indicating the position of middle C, and the F clef, indicating F a 5th below. Since the F clef was used for the human bass voice, it would seem quite logical to eventually use it for any bass voice, instrumental or otherwise. Of course, it makes perfect sense for our modern grand staff as well.

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Regardless of the explanations for why it's so, think for a moment of the benefit of having two G clefs instead of one G and one F.

Every new piano student would have half as many notes to learn. That is a substantial difference.

So the new grand staff has two ledger lines between the clefs instead of one, who cares?

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2 cents worth - Pianobuff hit a home run (to mix metaphors), and the G marks the g line on the g clef. Yes, it is a G. Look at old fashion music, back when they still made a G rather than the stylized G of today. Ditto the F clef. For those of us over 60, and perhaps our English brethren, we used to make capital Fs somewhat like the F sign of today.

Once you grasp the concept that the grand staff is nothing more than an 11 eleven line staff, with the middle line pulled out, and the two halves then "pulled apart" slightly, you should never again have problems with the grand staff.


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Quote
Originally posted by TromboneAl:
Regardless of the explanations for why it's so, think for a moment of the benefit of having two G clefs instead of one G and one F.

Every new piano student would have half as many notes to learn. That is a substantial difference.

So the new grand staff has two ledger lines between the clefs instead of one, who cares?
Great. And as soon as you get the entire music world to go with you on this, I'll come on board too :p laugh .


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Quote
Originally posted by John v.d.Brook:
Once you grasp the concept that the grand staff is nothing more than an 11 eleven line staff, with the middle line pulled out, and the two halves then "pulled apart" slightly, you should never again have problems with the grand staff.
Spot on! And if you ever have the desire to play the viola, the alto clef fits neatly in the exact centre of the grand staff and you won't have any problems with that either!


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I believe that this is to emphasize that
the staffs are not some kind of symmetric
system. For example, the second line from
the bottom on the treble is G, and the
second line from the top is D, but the second
line from the top on the bass is F and
the second line from the bottom is B. Thus,
there is no symmetry and you have to learn
the notes by rote. If you try to read
the bass like the treble you'l get f___.
That's why it's called the "F" clef.

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Thanks everybody for your elaborate answers! Now I can explain better to students the logic of the different clefs, without resorting to the worst reply, "just because it is so". But I´ll keep checking the thread for more feedback.

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David, when I begin to teach the grand staff, I have the kids put on their immagination cap and pretend that they are living in old Italy 500 years ago (and show them some prints of elegant outfits).

We're singing a bunch a neat tunes, but we want to share them with friends in the next town over. How can we write these tunes out and send them by stage coach to our friends?

I take a blank piece of paper and a magic marker and then sing baa baa black sheep or some other familiar tune. We make black marks across the page, going up or down by the amount the tone changes. For long notes, we make long strokes, for short notes, we make short strokes.

Then I wonder out loud if it wouldn't be easier to read if we just drew some lines across the page, so our friends could see very easily where they should be singing.

From there, I sing a G tone and say, why don't we make that this note here (we're starting on middle C), and draw a letter G where the cross bar on the bottom falls on the G line. Then we fancy it up a bit. Ditto with the F. In 10 minutes of fun role playing, we've "Invented" the grand staff.

Then I wrap up with a "Guess what?" This is exactly what happened 500 years ago, and everyone thought it so brilliant, that we've just stuck with it.

The kids now have ownership of the idea, and totally understand the concept. While learning to read it fluently still takes a while, they are not fighting it or trying to reinvent the wheel.

John


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I played the viola as a middle school student. I had troubles with upper register intonations on my violin. Think it was that I heard pure intervals better than well-tempered intervals. I would always be sharp in 4th position or higher. But I preferred the fiddle and still play it occasionally.


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Quote
Originally posted by Gyro:
I believe that this is to emphasize that
the staffs are not some kind of symmetric
system. For example, the second line from
the bottom on the treble is G, and the
second line from the top is D, but the second
line from the top on the bass is F and
the second line from the bottom is B. Thus,
there is no symmetry and you have to learn
the notes by rote. If you try to read
the bass like the treble you'l get f___.
That's why it's called the "F" clef.
But it is symetric if you think of it as a mirror image with C being in the middle. Five steps down and five steps up dictate what clef your in and why it is called F clef and G clef.

The question is why the treble and bass clefs are also called G clef and F clef.

I do like your cleverness when it comes to why the bass clef is called the "F" clef, but really it is only a Giant Ladder (the grand staff and it ledger lines) with C being in the middle.


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If you turned your music sideways, enlarged it so the lines and spaces were big enough to line up with the piano keys everything would make perfect sense because every note would line up with it's own line or space..
You could also keep the music straight up and down and tip your piano on it's side but that might not be such a good idea.

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So, a bass singer reads bass clef -- just one clef at a time, no grand staff.

And there were bass singers long before there were pianists.

So, why for a bass singer would the bass clef center on F?


A soprano singer reads treble clef -- just one clef at a time, no grand staff, no symmetries, no sideways keyboards.

And there were soprano singers long before there were pianists.

So, why for a soprano singer would the treble clef center on G?


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Sam,

I think it is because (and forgive me, I do not have my music dictionary handy) but I think it is because there are also mezzo sopranos, altos, tenors, baritone and basses, which make up a larger range like the size of the grand staff, with again C being in the middle.

Now that I'm thinking about it, perhaps the keyboard and/or harp and the notation of pitches using a grand staff was designed by the ranges of the human voice.


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It's actually to simplify things that so few clefs are now used. In Bach's time the soprano would have been reading from a soprano clef (a C clef which marked the bottom line as middle C). Many clefs were used primarily to keep the notes within the range of the staff, or put another way, to avoid ledger lines. This is why viola music is largely written in the alto clef - because its commonly used range fits within the notes on the stave indicated by the alto clef.

But as to the "why is the treble clef a G clef" -
A G clef indicates the position of G
An F clef (different shape) indicates the position of F
A C clef (different shape again) indicates the position of C

As far as I understand it, all were once moveable. Now it's only the C clef which has more than one position (for tenor and alto clef positions). Certain clef positions that weren't used much were dropped, and what we have is basically what was left, by virtue of being the most commonly used.
The real question is not so much "why is the treble clef a G clef?" (answer = because the treble clef sign is a sign which indicates the position of G - that's what it IS) but "why didn't other clef positions like the soprano clef survive?" And I don't think anyone would really want a situation where each voice type had its own clef, would they? Though I'm sure we could have got used to it if we'd had to smile .


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Here\'s a post in my blog that's relevant to this.

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