For most of my life, I've thought that treble and bass were the only musical clefs. Then I learned about the alto and tenor clefs. I've found articles online saying that these 4 clefs are the only ones regularly used, which makes it sound like there are more clefs out there that aren't commonly used.

Are the treble, bass, tenor, and alto clefs the only clefs, or are there more?

  • Percussion clef for drums, Tablature for guitar, if those count to you – Lenny Jan 4 '19 at 1:18

There are three modern pitched clefs:

  • enter image description here, the G-clef
  • enter image description here, the C-clef (less common)
  • enter image description here, the F-clef

Note that I didn't call them treble, alto, and bass. That's because the meaning of the clef depends on where it appears horizontally on the stave:

  • For the G-clef, the line passing through the middle of the swirly bit (technical term) is G4.
  • For the C-clef, the line passing through the centre is C4.
  • For the F-clef, the line passing through the two dots is F3.

We can then create a whole range of possibilities by shuffling these clefs around the stave:

enter image description here

Most of these are unused in modern music. You'll encounter treble and bass everywhere. Alto and Tenor are still used, but are less common, and tend to be associated with specific instruments (notably viola).

You'll also find octave-shifting clefs. They have a little "8" above or below the clef, to indicate up or down an octave:

  • enter image description here, treble clef down one octave (8vb)
  • enter image description here, treble clef up one octave (8va)

It's possible to create two-octave versions using "15" instead of "8", but that's getting pretty exotic

There's also a few other special-use clefs:

  • enter image description here, used for unpitched percussion. Each space and line has a meaning, but it's not really standardised.
  • enter image description here, used for tablature for guitars and other similar instruments

Note that there are many other clefs that have existed, and I'm not going to be exhaustive. Often they are just different ways of drawing the same clef.

All images shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clef

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  • 2
    This is a really thorough and in depth answer. Tenor clef is pretty common in cello literature. – DrSvanHay Jan 4 '19 at 2:05
  • That covers it. I'd just add that I've encountered every one of these clefs, but that's because I do early music, and many older editions use the original clefs, which utilize all seven possible positions (not including octave transpositions) where a "C" can be. – Scott Wallace Jan 4 '19 at 11:54
  • @DrSvanHay and Alto clef is standard for violas, but we don't talk about them :-) – Carl Witthoft Jan 4 '19 at 13:15

There's also something called a neutral clef. The treble, bass, tenor, and alto clefs are the most common. Many people don't really see the Neutral Clef very often, so it's less common than the treble, bass, tenor, and alto clefs. Use this website for more info on all 5 of these clefs: https://www.musicnotes.com/now/tips/a-complete-guide-to-musical-clefs-what-are-they-and-how-to-use-them/

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  • I checked the website--your neutral clef is the same as the clefs for unpitched percussion in endorph's answer. – Dekkadeci Jan 4 '19 at 6:30
  • Hi, we recommend putting information into your answers, because links are prone to vanish into the cyberfog of yesterday. – Carl Witthoft Jan 4 '19 at 13:16

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