I'm going to be moving instruments at both Church and School next year. I was playing Baritone and will be moving to Eb Bass/Tuba. At church I will be playing treble clef and at school I will be playing bass clef. I was wondering if there is a way to not change valve positions for the notes and just read the clef as is.

6 Answers 6


Welcome to the wonderful world of transposing instruments!

Bass clef tuba parts are non-transposing. The note that you read is the note that you play. If you read a 'B♭', the note that the arranger wants you to play is really a B♭. Simple.

Treble Clef E♭ parts are transposing. If you read a 'B♭', the note that the arranger wants you to play is really a D♭. But you're in luck, because there's a trick you can use to make this easy.

First, cross out the treble clef, and replace it with a bass clef. Then, add three flats to the key signature. If there are already sharps, each flat cancels out a sharp (so 2 sharps becomes 1 flat, for example). Now, play it as if it was a bass clef part.

You can verify this works with our example from before. Imagine a B♭ on a treble clef, with two flats in the key signature. Then, swap the clefs and add three flats. It becomes a D♭, which is the real note you need to play.

If you want to look at this solution more theoretically, you should be able to determine that swapping the clef and adding flats is equivalent to dropping the note an octave plus a major sixth, which is the reverse of the E♭ transposition.

You can apply the reverse technique to read a non-transposed bass clef part as an E♭ treble clef part. You need to replace the bass clef with a treble clef, and add three sharps. In my experience, bass clef is the norm for tuba, not E♭ treble, so I'd generally recommend learning to read the bass clef. I'm aware that this is not the norm in other band traditions, particularly British brass bands, so your mileage may vary.

For the record, I wouldn't suggest actually scribbling on your parts, unless you can make a copy of them. You should be able to do this swap mentally with a little bit of practice. This way you can play everything as if it were a bass clef part.

  • Doing any sort of notation dodge like this is poor technique. Better to spend practice time learning how to actually read both clefs properly. Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 14:22
  • @Brian Interesting. Do you think learning two sets of fingerings is better technique than sight transposition? I would have thought that the transposition is actually going to teach you more about music in the long run?
    – endorph
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 21:07
  • Just a heads up I played/still treble on baritone and I play more church music then school so If I move to Eb Bass at school the music will be bass and I want to be able to play in treble clef and not have to read bass.
    – Travis
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 1:47
  • @Travis You can reverse the process (bass -> treble, and add three sharps). I'm a little hesitant to advise you to do this, because it's handy for a tuba player to be able to read bass clef. You should ideally be able to read bass, Eb treble and Bb treble. You can do that by either learning three fingerings, or translating on the fly (sight transposition). I prefer the latter option.
    – endorph
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 2:52
  • I have always played Eb bass. When I first learned to play in the school orchestra, I learned Eb treble notes. Just a year after, we were introduced to bass clef, and after it has been mainly that. But I still only "think in Eb treble clef" and add 3 sharps instead of learning it "the proper way". This is working out just fine, but somethimes it get's kind of tricky when I get key signature with 5 sharps, and then I get a total of 8 sharps... That means I have F sharp sharp, which is really G - that is a bit tricky to translate on the fly...
    – awe
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 10:21

I'm from Salvation Army the only instrument in the band that reads bass is bass trombone. That way if I move to Eb Bass. I'll still be playing treble but at school I'll be given bass clef parts. So I will have to do to be able to play the music at school is add three sharps. Thanks.

  • Yes. This is the good thing about Eb bass. If you would be playing Bb bass (or some other type) I think it would be better to re-learn fingering instead (and the proper note names for the bass clef)
    – awe
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 10:28
  • I only need to know for sight reading then I can take the music home after school practice and use Sibelius to change it for me.
    – Travis
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 10:43
  • 1
    Don't do that. Get good at the sight reading. Otherwise you'll be hobbled for ever.
    – Laurence
    Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 13:26

I'm not sure you quite got it yet.....you add three sharps if you are reading Eb treble clef in place of bass clef, while pretending it is bass clef. If you don't already read bass clef, you will have to learn it if you are presented with bass clef parts at school for tuba.


Then there's the elephant in the room of learning C tuba for most major orchestras. 2 ways to do this. Read bass clef as bass clef but use treble clef fingerings, or just learn C tuba fingerings. Latter is best.


In some parts of the world (Australia, NZ, UK) the brass band tradition is that all the instruments read treble clef. So I learnt to play trombone in treble clef reading Bb transposed notes but actually sounding a ninth lower. The exception is third trombone (bass) which reads bass clef at pitch. So because you play Eb bass you can use the bass clef trick above to help you learn to read bass clef more quickly. But it still helps to learn the note names. As an aside - if you can read Bb as a low brass player, you will find that this helps you get familiar with tenor clef which crops up in orchestral literature.


You're accustomed to treble clef, I think? So for 'brass band treble clef' noation you pick up the Eb bass and carry on reading as before.

The dodge for reading concert pitch bass clef is to read the same lines and spaces as if it were treble clef but add three sharps to the key signature. (Sometimes this will result in a bass clef flat being read as a treble clef natural, a sharp becoming a double sharp...)

Initially you'll probably have to do a bit of preparation, and pencil in the fingerings at a few tricky spots (but do try not to cop out and pencil them ALL in!). After a short time I guarantee you'll be 'just reading it'.

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  • I'd suggest it's better to practice reading Bass clef and mentally transposing (i.e. do it the right way) than practice doing it the wrong way. I don't see how you could argue it's better to do the wrong thing than the right thing. Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 16:48
  • But which is the 'right' way? A niche method that requires a bass instrument to read treble clef, or the actual notes at the actual pitch?
    – Laurence
    Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 16:57
  • Whichever clef it is, read the notes then mentally transpose them to the instrument. e.g. read a concert Eb off the stave play a C on the Eb instrument. The problem with the dodge is that without considerable thought you don't know what concert pitch is actually intended. If you're reading the actual clef you know exactly what the intended pitch is. Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 11:46
  • Funny how essentially the same answer from @endorph got voted UP :-)
    – Laurence
    Commented Mar 15, 2019 at 14:30

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