How to Read Bass Clef

Updated: Apr 1

Reading music is very much like learning a new language.

We have a series of symbols that, out in a piece of paper, we immediately decipher them into an understandable sound. However, in this genre, we emit this sound in a musical, melodic sound rather than a spoken sound.

Like in languages we have many dialects, we also have this in music as we have many different clefs we read on. This is for intonation and registration. Before we jump into learning how to read bass clef, we need to understand where this comes from and why we use it.

Reading Bass Clef Notes

As it is positioned in the low staff on the piano, other instruments might have it as a single staff line in their scores. Many instruments like the Cello, Double Bass, Euphonium or Tuba read the bass clef. This is due to register reasons, as these instruments are designed to play very low bass notes; therefore the register is shifted low as well in order to read more comfortably. Pianists use the bass clef to read the left hand piano notes.

How to Draw a Bass Clef:

The Bass Clef is notated like this

Bass clef

To read the F clef, we would start on F; obviously, however, we would read this note on the upper second line of the staff.

Bass clef notes

This clef initially was like a big “F”, as, during the early 16th century, it was written backwards from the way the F is written today. Below, is a progression of the clef:

Getting into Practice

As we are very used to reading in treble clef, many of us would face a big challenge when jumping into reading a new “language” or clef variation.

Therefore it is recommendable that if you want to start or either improve your reading skills, practice a lot!

Practice makes perfect, especially in learning a new musical method.

Tips on How to Read the F Clef

Think about the spaces and lines and use them. With the alphabet, count from G starting on the bottom line and continue in its corresponding order until you reach G again. (G, A, B, C ,D, E, F, G). All of the notes should be aligned in order like in the graphic below:

The next step is looking at easy exercises that put the notes into a musical order as in scale format. However, the order of the notes should be altered.

The more you practice, the better you will become!

Reading the Bass Clef in a Score

We also need to get in touch with our analytical skills and understand the components of the staff. The Bass clef looks very similar to the treble clef, however, it has a different shape, and the notes are displaced. This means that F will stand in a line, instead of in space as with the treble clef. Start with memorizing the notes in the spaces and then learn the notes present in the lines. Many pianists use different hints to remember them such as acronyms like “Any Cow Eats Grass” that stands for notes A, C E and G present in the spaces. For the notes present in the lines we would use “Grizzly Bears Dance For All”, which represent the notes G, B, D and F present in the lines.

Another good tip is to remember that our Middle C will be placed this time in the first ledger line above the staff.

Now it’s time to put your sight-reading into practice! Start with easy and simple songs:

Reading songs will increase the difficulty and promote a faster improvement in your reading skills as you would start looking at intervals, chords and longer tied melodies. When practicing in this clef, start slowly and follow a developmental process, in which weekly, you must test yourself and track very well your improvements. You got this!

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