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?


7 Answers 7


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.

  • I saw bassoons and cellos use the tenor clef in the original orchestral scores of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance Marches.
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 17, 2019 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. Feb 18, 2019 at 1:52
  • @NevinWilliams it's not transposed. Trombones are not transposing instruments. It's just written in tenor clef.
    – phoog
    Feb 18, 2019 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, 2019 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. Feb 18, 2019 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

  • 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. Feb 17, 2019 at 1:06
  • Done. Force of habit to not capitalize it when writing titles. Feb 18, 2019 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":

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

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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. Oct 21, 2019 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...


The most practical single fact to remember about the tenor clef is that it's a fifth above the bass clef, i.e. one sharp further in the circle of fifths.

This is particularly useful for cellists, who can read tenor clef simply by playing as if it were bass clef, but everything one string higher, but also in general transposing by a fifth should be particularly well-practiced as it's the tonic-dominant relationship and because several wind instruments are in F or B♭.


Tenor clef

  • lines: Ditch Frank And Come Eat
  • spaces: Eat Green Beans Derick

Treble clef

  • lines: Every Good Boy Does Fine
  • spaces: FACE

Bass clef

  • lines: Good Boys Do Fine Always
  • spaces: All Cows Eat Grass

Alto clef

  • lines: Frogs And Cats Eat Grass
  • spaces: Good Boys Do Fine

I usually think of a similar thing to leftaroundabout. But toggle or switch the treble clef
(in my mind's eye) with the alto or tenor clef.

  • treble clef C is at three spaces up.
  • tenor clef C is one step up, four lines up.
  • alto clef C is one step down for C, 3 lines up.

Then you just transpose or know that the sound is one octave below.

So the idea is that the old note (from treble clef) is always one away or next to the new note
(in alto or tenor clef).

So treble to tenor (if you switch clefs in mind's eye):
C is D, D is E, E is F, etc.

treble to alto is:
C is B, D is C, E is D, etc.

It's following the order of the alphabet and should be very easy to navigate:
you have this skill already.

I don't see the point of learning a mnemonic for this as you will know the treble clef.

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