I'm learning to play piano and have started reading sheet music.

As far as I have seen the G-clef and F-clef are always on the same lines.

Is this always the case? So will the middle line of the upper staff always be B?

  • 5
    An interesting musical footnote is that the G and F (treble and bass) clefs looked more like their respective letters in earlier incarnations. Have a look at this from the Harvard Dictionary of Music to see for yourself.
    – BobRodes
    Apr 2, 2014 at 12:37
  • Typically before Y Clef.
    – MDMoore313
    Apr 3, 2014 at 16:08

5 Answers 5


No, the F clef and G clef don't always reside on the same line

From wikipedia

In order to facilitate writing for different tessituras, any of the clefs may theoretically be placed on any of the lines of the stave. The further down on the stave a clef is placed, the higher the tessitura it is for; conversely, the higher up the clef, the lower the tessitura.

Simply put, the clef is moved mainly to illustrate comfortable ranges to be associated with their respective musical instruments.

The position of the clef denotes where the reference note is located on the staff

The position of the clef denotes where the reference note is located on the staff

  • 10
    Absolutely correct, but worth noting that with the exception of treble, alto, tenor, and bass clefs, these are not very common nowadays.
    – NReilingh
    Apr 2, 2014 at 17:32
  • I've also seen tenor parts printed with a C-clef bracketing the second space (equivalent to a treble clef one octave down).
    – supercat
    Apr 3, 2014 at 16:30
  • A common place where someone might encounter the French violin clef is in the Dover (Bach Gesellschaft) edition of the Musical Offering, which uses it for several pieces. Apr 7, 2014 at 18:30

That's what the clefs are there for: to tell you what notes the five lines of the staff (that's what we call each "bar", as you put it) represent. The clefs are necessary because a blank staff of five lines lacks context: which notes do those five lines represent?

enter image description here

As someone just starting to read piano music, you probably have only seen sheet music in which all the staves are paired, with a G clef and an F clef. In fact, not all piano music has both a G (or treble) clef and an F (or bass) clef. Here's an example:

enter image description here

Sometimes the composer will even change the clef of a staff mid-line if that part is easier to write and read in a different clef. And non-piano music doesn't pair the staves at all; if you're writing violin music, for example, there's no need to have two staves per line, and there's no use for a bass clef:

enter image description here

  • 1
    'The tail always crosses the G line'? What? The tail always crosses every line! 'The spiral has G as its central point' might make more sense.
    – Tim
    Apr 25, 2020 at 7:29
  • Your second example isn't ideal imo; the notes in the lower staff could be written in bass clef, and it would be just as easy to read, if not easier.
    – Divide1918
    May 11, 2021 at 6:48

The modern G clef and F clef are basically fixed in usage. The C clef, in contrast, was used in a lot of different positions. Two of these are still common, the alto clef on the middle line, used for viola and viola da gamba regularly, and the tenor clef on the second line for high passages of violoncello, bassoon and trombone. (Further positions of the C key as well as exotic ones for F and G key can be found in the clef article of wikipedia).

Piano music does not really use anything but G and F clefs, extending the range with ottava markers. For occasional two-handed high or low passages, you might see two G clefs, or two F clefs or for crossed hand passages the clefs may even be swapped. Other than that, it is G over F.

  • 6
    Sorry to disagree. The C clef on the second line (called tenor clef) is heavily used - for higher passages of the cello (never seen an alto clef there) as well as for higher bassoon passages. If you don't prefer to revise your answer yourself I will make an attempt.
    – guidot
    Apr 2, 2014 at 13:32
  • 1
    If you can edit, go for it. It would probably not be a good idea if I tried rewriting an answer that apparently is further out of my area of expertise than appropriate for a good answer.
    – User8773
    Apr 2, 2014 at 13:43

Bach and the other composers of the baroque period very often use the soprano clef, which is a G-clef resting on the bottom line. So, the answer to your question is no, the G-clef is not always on the same line.

  • That is the French Violin Clef. The G-soprano clef rests on the third line and is lower than treble clef. More often that clef was written as a C clef on the bottom line. Apr 7, 2014 at 18:29

In most of the recent learning materials for beginner, the clef positions are probably fixed, but, if placed on the different line, they can be used to shift (transpose) the actual note positions as represented by the stave (assuming the "usual" position).

It seems that it used to be more common in the past than it is now.

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