My music knowledge background

I never studied music in a music school, but I've composed music for some years and know some theory that I've picked up and read about over the years. I do not have much practise with special score symbols and I typically use whatever my score editing software (Guitar Pro 8 at the moment) provides, hence my question.

Context for the question

I composed a piece for two classical guitars which has a section with 20+ measures where 95% of the notes range between E2 and C3 when played on the guitar. Because guitar is a transposing instrument where the guitar sound plays one octave lower than notated in the score, this range is represented in the score between E3 and C4 (middle C which marks the frontier between the G clef and the F clef).

All this to say that almost all notes on this part are notated below the bottom line of the G clef (but above the played E3, notated E4, which is the lowest pitch on a guitar with standard tuning, so below the third ledger line below the staff).

So, I see three options to notate this section in the score:

  1. Use 8va |----------| below the measures of the score section;
  2. Change to "G clef transposed one octave below" (i.e., the G clef with an 8 below it) (I don't know the standard term for this) on this score section;
  3. Change to an F clef on this score section.

I know all of them are equivalent, that is not the point of this question.


Which one of the 3 options above would be more "correct" to use in this case and why?

Also, if you could elaborate on which scenarios the other options are typically used in a score, that would be appreciated as well. For example, 8va |----------| may be more suited for brief passages, etc.

  • 2
    Always always always ledger lines for classical guitar. Even with scordatura and the sixth string tuned to D. We are used to it and anything else will slow us down and/or confuse us. On electric guitar only, sometimes 8va for very high notes helps, because a 24 fret electric can go two octaves above top space E. Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 2:15

1 Answer 1


In my opinion, none of those is good. They all have one thing in common: they will confuse anyone who will be reading your score, and for several reasons:

  1. If you're going to change what the dots on the staff mean (be it through a clef change or through an 8va marking), you should be doing that for a good reason. For instance, if I read notes in the bass clef, I will automatically read the dots on the bottom line as G2. If you switch to the treble clef, I will have to switch gears and say "Hey, it's treble clef! Now it's E4!" If I read complicated piano music that switches the clefs all the time, I get sometimes genuinely mixed up so much that I lose track of what's in what clef. You don't want to be doing that just because of three ledger lines.
  2. Ledger lines are OK if there's a reasonable number of them. Since I happen to be a classical guitarist, I'm used to reading up to 4 ledger lines below the staff and 5 above. These are no easier or harder for me to read than any other note. That will be true for most other people who will read your score. (And the low notes are much more common than the high ones.)
  3. As you correctly note, classical guitar is written in the G-clef, an octave higher than it sounds. So everyone is used to this. Anything else will throw people off and confound them.
  4. By the way, I would especially advise against using the bass clef. If you let me be a bit cynical, I think that classical guitarists on average don't rank very high on general music skills. Hence many of them could even not know what a bass clef is, let alone how to read it. (But this claim may be entirely baseless. It's just my general feeling and it may be completely wrong.)
  5. (Using an 8va marking to raise notes up an octave is less confusing, since you can just play everything 12 frets higher. That's easy. And some harmonics can get so high that there would really be too many ledger lines.)

In short: keep it simple, don't change clefs, don't use 8va markings and just write a couple of ledger lines. This is the way everyone has always been doing it. You should do it too if you don't want to confuse people.

  • Thanks for the answer, it was perfect! This is actually what I was not aware: whether classically trained guitarrists typically prefer ledger lines or 8v(vb)/clef changes. I have a quick follow-up question if you don't mind: would you only use 8va on a mid/large sized portion of the guitar score if (and only if) the intention of the composer is to play 12 frets higher? I.e., would you still notate as 8va if your intention were to play notes from the low frets and/or low strings an octave above on the higher strings? Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 0:29
  • 2
    @GandalfTheBard: I would say no. If you're not using harmonics, I'd say 8va is only worth using if an extended part of the music is all up in the high register (let's say E5 and above).
    – Ramillies
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 0:45
  • E5 as heard on the guitar sound or E5 as notated (i.e., E4 heard on the guitar sound)? Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 0:48
  • 1
    As heard. The one with three ledger lines above the staff.
    – Ramillies
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 0:53

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