I've been copying over my purchased PDF of John Adams's score for "China Gates" into a new MuseScore copy for my personal use. There are frequent clef changes which he notates in this manner throughout the score:

original score with parenthetical clef changes

I'd like to notate it slightly differently for ease, and, at least for myself, easier to read. Like this:

proposed score without parenthetical clef changes

In playing back the segments with MuseScore, I can't tell any difference in the sound. Are these in fact equivalent?

3 Answers 3


Yes they are equivalent, and you found a better way to notate it. Whoever made the original notation (whether John Adam or the publisher) could very well think "why didn't I think of that. It is so simple" when seeing your solution.

  • That's only true in this particular segment where the left hand happens to come at the beginning of the system. In general, the piece is much easier to read with the left hand scored in treble clef.
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 15:18
  • @Aaron well it is just a simple clef change from treble clef to bass clef and back to treble clef. It is much more clear than having clef changes in brackets in my opinion. The left hand is still notated mostly in treble clef. Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 15:24
  • These clef changes happen continually throughout the piece. The OP approach would have no advantage elsewhere.
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 15:39
  • I don't quite get how there's no advantage to using my approach throughout. But to each their own. OTOH I do see a problem with my change: the key signature on the bass clef isn't as easy to read as, in the original, where the key signature corresponds to the clef change to treble. So I'm not exactly sure which way I prefer!
    – markmarz
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 16:00
  • @markmarz I'm not quite saying there's no advantage: there's a clear advantage at this particular moment in the score, but overall I think it's a wash and comes down to personal preference. With regard to the key signature adjustment — I just see five sharps; I'm actually not paying attention to their exact placement.
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 16:05

Yes, these are equivalent in this case. What is given in this score is not a change of clef but rather multiple clefs for multiple voices in the same staff. The advantage of doing so is that you save a lot of disrupting clef changes if you were to do it properly. The solution given here has two issues that overcomplicate things:

First that G clef is not at all necessary! Placing the F clef next to the second voice strongly implies that this clef only affects this voice. Thus we can omit the G clef. And second: In this case I think the second voice of the left hand is supposed to be read in bass clef all throughout the piece. Thus the parentheses would be meant as saying "this is just a reminder". But adding parentheses to "reminders" is a bit stupid, because you not only add the instructions, but you even make them wider and more prominent (and at the same time more confusing).

Personally I’d rather engrave this like this:

enter image description here

For comparison your way:

enter image description here

and the original notation:

enter image description here

By the way you can also do this in MuseScore (as long as you can live without the parentheses) by moving the clef like this

enter image description here

  • Thanks! I like your approach, it's very clean. BTW you can put parentheses around a clef in MuseScore but it's not straightforward. I believe the parentheses and F clef are courtesy notation. What I've been doing is a slight variation from the original: no parentheses. This way the key signature is easier to read (for me) and still less cluttered. But yours is the cleanest method I've seen.
    – markmarz
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 18:28
  • Oops! Problem is MuseScore isn't smart enough to assume the implied G clef if it's removed after the F clef. When the 2nd 'courtesy' G clef is removed, MuseScore compensates by moving all the lower staff notes (besides the one adjacent to the F clef) up 2 octaves resulting in ledger line madness. Maybe other notation software would handle it better.
    – markmarz
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 18:47

Yes. Were I playing from the MuseScore version, I would execute it the same way I would were I given the original.

In the original, it's understood that the lowest notes are in bass clef, but the parenthetical "courtesy clef" offers a visual reminder. However, since it is nevertheless a change in clef, the "courtesy" treble clef clarifies the return to that clef.

In the MuseScore version, the "warning" clef at the end of the first system serves the same purpose as the "courtesy" clef in the original, but the "real" treble clef becomes necessary to make clear the return to a treble staff.

The MuseScore version requires that the key signature be given relative to bass clef, but for most readers, they'll just see that there are five sharps, and the change in placement won't matter. Since the key signature is already established at this point, the change in placement isn't a big deal.

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