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Do You Read Old Clefs ?

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Hey, I'd like to have a perspective from the outside world about this issue... Could you be so kind to tell me if you read old (unused) clefs ? if they are taught at your school, and how important are for you. If you can include your location will help me a lot, and also any type of information like if the instrument you play is a transporter one.

 

By "old" clefs I mean all in this picture except treble, alto, bass and tenor.

 

clefrelative.png

Do you think learning the ability to read in many clefs works as an intelligent and useful method to transport in real time for instruments not tuned in C ?

 

Do you think the musicians that play transporter instruments are the only ones should study these clefs ?

 

Thank you.

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Well, I'm a Brazilian composer, from a not so big city (North of the country) and my instrument is the piano. I can read treble and bass without troubles, and the alto with some restrictions. The real reason why I can read alto clef is the need to write for violas. In music schools here one is not supposed to read clefs other than treble and bass (except for some players like violists or cellists). As we have many other technological resources today (like Finale or Sibelius) the actual need for someone to be able to read in all these clefs does not exist any more. Of course it may be extremely useful for historians, musicologists or scholars of old/ancient music. For us, it doesn't seem to be that vital any more.

 

(I do feel like I should mention Schoenberg's counterpoint book, where he says "A musician that cannot read in all ancient clefs is mediocre". By ancient clefs he meansnthe four-part choral clefs: Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass).

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Occasionally older scores turn up with my choir.  When they do, everyone grinds their teeth, and I sometimes volunteer to transpose it all out in my notation software in today's standard treble and bass instead.  There are a LOT of people who do this on CPDL (the Choral Public Domain Library).  You'd think it wouldn't matter for a choir, but it makes it hard to grab the starting pitch for your next entrance from the parts around you.  I'm in the U.S.  And I was never taught to read any of these, so I don't read them smoothly at all.  

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I've only seen the "old" clefs in old vocal music scores. As a non-singer, I've never learned them by myself or been taught them in all my music classes.

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As a trombonist, I occasionally encounter alto or tenor clef; although, I can only read Bass or Treble clef.

 

As an instrumentalist, I find them redundant and annoying.

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Here in (Central) Europe, most of these clefs are still taught during solfeggio lessons within the frames of secondary & higher music education (not mentioning the academic level). I vividly remember being tormented by tasks like sight-reading 2 or 3-part exercises with one voice sung and the remainder played on piano, each staff written in different clefs (excluding treble and bass).

The French G- and the subbass clefs are the only ones that are apparently absent from our textbook materials - I've never seen them being used anywhere in school practice.

Up to the early 90's, there even used to be a funny clef called 'do-clef', solely for didactic purpose, that looked like a withered C-clef which designated the place of the tonic degree of the major scale in concordance with the key signature, and which could be placed anywhere on a staff (~both on line and space).

Back to the topic, often I cannot avoid reading the soprano, alto and tenor clefs due to the fact that a good many of the old music theory books (on counterpoint, for instance) use them.

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There are a few of them I didn't even know about their existence. Of course I'm used to treble and bass, as well as alto (violas) and occassionaly tenor (when writing for trombones and cellos). But I would possibly have used at least the "sub-bass" one for the lower register of the tubas, rather than all those additional lines under the bass clef.

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We are "taught" the clefs in our aural skills courses here at university. But, we aren't expected to use them. 

 

Really, we just use what we perform on.

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If I have to "read" old clefs I skip to the last chapter to see how the story ends ... and it's always the same. No ledger lines, but what the cost!

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Well I never really come across those 'old clefs' since I don't study older scores. I read treble and bass because I play piano. I can read the alto and tenor clefs reasonably well, given that I only use them when necessary to compose for an instrument. For me, I think it's easy enough to get the hang of any of these other ones (I know this because I've used Finale to switch clefs and tried to sightread music in them just for fun).

 

But as simple as it seems to me for people to learn them, I don't think it matters whether we use more clefs or keep in place the practices we have regarding transposing instruments. Neither way of doing things seems more or less complicated than the other, so there's no sense in exploring a possibility that isn't absolutely necessary and would further complicate the issue by upheaving what everyone is used to (I note with a smirk that this is the same reason the US doesn't fully use metric :P  ).

 

Although I do think, personally, that learning lots of different clefs would feel less messy than all the transposition stuff... so I guess I don't really know which I would prefer. But you know what they say, don't rock the boat! 

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Learn to transpose by interval and do it the right way. Learning to transpose by clef is 100 years out of date at this point because anything even moderately outside of tonality is next to impossible to transpose by clef with accuracy. 

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Nope! I mean, I used to play viola and read alto clef fluently, but whenever I read it now all I can remember is where the C- and A- strings are, and of course middle C. The tenor clef I've never had to perform in, and as you noted those two clefs are still actively used. Do I think it's important for people to read them fluidly? Not really. Has anyone ever seen them used in contemporary music? All I've learned/been expected to know if how to find middle C on all clefs (US).

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I don't read all of them, but soprano, alto and tenor I can read pretty well (or at least used to). One of my final exams studying choral conducting consisted of playing choir scores in four keys (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) on the piano whilst singing one of those four voices.

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