I've been transcribing orchestral arrangements into MuseScore, and have encountered my first Tenor Clef.

I searched online for "Tenor Clef Mnemonic" and other help-with-tenor-clef queries, with no hits.

I seem to infer that by the time students and performers encounter the Tenor Clef, they're well beyond needing mnemonics to identify and play notes, or perhaps it's just a simple transposition that doesn't require a new mnemonic.

I, however, am just typesetting scores, and would like to get the notes entered correctly on the first try or so.

So, are there any common mnemonic phrases in use for the Tenor Clef?


If you can read piano parts from a grand staff, all you need to do is remember that the "clef line" is middle C. Read the lines above that as the bottom of a treble clef staff, and the lines below as the top of a bass clef staff.

This works for all the C clefs - soprano, mezzo, alto, tenor, and baritone.

Working with orchestral scores, you usually get familiar with the alto C clef (used by viola) first before you see the tenor - but YMMV of course.

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  • I saw bassoons and cellos use the tenor clef in the original orchestral scores of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance Marches. – Dekkadeci Feb 17 '19 at 7:46
  • There's a tenor trombone part in this version of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries I'm working on. And, it turns out, it's mostly just a transposed copy of the bass trombone. – Nevin Williams Feb 18 '19 at 1:52
  • @NevinWilliams it's not transposed. Trombones are not transposing instruments. It's just written in tenor clef. – phoog Feb 18 '19 at 4:47
  • @Dekkadeci nobody's saying that tenor clefs are unusual in orchestral scores. They're just not as common as alto clefs. – phoog Feb 18 '19 at 4:48
  • @phoog Yes, that's right. The notes in the tenor clef stave were identical to the notes in the bass clef stave; no musical transposition was involved. – Nevin Williams Feb 18 '19 at 14:35

I came up with my own mnemonic, having recently encountered some automotive-themed phrases for learning the Alto Clef.

Dodges, Fords And Chevs Everywhere (for the lines) Ethanol Gas Breaks Down (For the spaces)

Yeah, I know not the best, but even this would have gotten me on my way had it come up in a search.

Tenor Clef and Notes

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  • 1
    Perhaps capitalize the "And" of your mnemonic because it is it's own line. Generally a lowercase in a mnemonic means it is only for grammar, and not actually part of it. – Aethenosity Feb 17 '19 at 1:06
  • Done. Force of habit to not capitalize it when writing titles. – Nevin Williams Feb 18 '19 at 1:42

This isn't exactly a mnemonic, but I've always found it helpful to think of common chords being notated in a clef. Once I have those images in my mind, I learn the pitches very quickly.

It's very convenient in alto clef. In that clef, a clear IV–V7–I in C is just "bottom three lines," "spaces," and "top three lines":

enter image description here

We can adapt a similar process for tenor clef, but now in A minor:

enter image description here

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  • ... and imagine that the C- Clef assigns and is determining the line which is usually the first ledger line below the G clef and between the both usual clefs for pianists: G and F, that is between the grand staff. This is really the best and logical way to read the clefs - even the bass clef! I remember, how I used to transpose the violin clef in to the bass clef when began playing piano. This nonsense and inappropriate like all mnemonics. To be aware the C-clef line is the ledger lind of the middle c is the right way - with reminding the chord position like you show in your answer. – Albrecht Hügli Oct 21 '19 at 10:05

Making up ones own mnemonics is probably easier in the long run, as they're more personal. I do that with guitar string names - like Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears, although I prefer going 1st string to 6th.

Since the tenor clef moves C to the second line down, the letter names, rising, are D F A C E - same as treble clef spaces, with D underneath. 'D(e)face' comes to mind. And the spaces are similar to treble clef lines, E G B D, as in Every Good Boy Deserves...quite good, as a lot of us can't decide an apposite final word for the lines on treble clef...

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