I am a clarinettist so I am a little embarrassed to need to ask this. I have not played the bass clarinet. I am looking at a miniature score of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (Dover Miniature Scores).

Towards the end of The Ritual Action of the Ancestors, there are two bass clarinets playing. The second part is written in the bass clef and the first switches to the bass clef at bar 143. I thought that the bass clarinet was a transposing instrument (down a major 9th) and would be written in the treble clef. As a player, how would I interpret the bass clef? Would I now consider my instrument as only transposing by a major second?

More generally, what notation is used for the bass clarinet?

1 Answer 1


In this case, your intuition is correct: when the bass clarinet is written in the bass clef, it now only transposes by a major second instead of by a major ninth.

Transposing by a major ninth (i.e., written in treble clef) is far more common so as to allow the player to use the same fingerings as they do when playing the standard clarinet. But this bass-clef notation does occasionally appear.

But buckle up.

To make matters more confusing, the transposition level isn't fully standardized when the score briefly changes to treble clef. In the German style, the treble-clef notation is still only transposed by a major second. In the Russian style, however, treble-clef notation reverts to the standard major-ninth transposition.

Confused yet? But it gets even better: some Italian scores write the bass clarinet in bass clef but continue to transpose it by a major ninth (!).

In practice, it's best to remember the four traditions of bass-clarinet notation:

  1. The standard (French) style, always written in treble clef transposed by major ninth;
  2. the German style, in which all is transposed by major second;
  3. the Russian style, in which treble-clef notation transposes by major ninth but bass-clef notation transposes by major second;
  4. and the Italian style, in which all is transposed by major ninth (treble clef and bass clef).
  • Thanks. This is the first time that I have noticed the bass clarinet written in the bass clef. I would have been less puzzled if it was consistently so. The switch for just a few bars seemed odd.
    – badjohn
    Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 15:38
  • Did I interpret the instrumentation correctly? We need 5 players and 10 instruments?
    – badjohn
    Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 15:39
  • 1
    @badjohn That I admit I'm less clear on. It's definitely five players, but the number of instruments may change if the performers choose to transpose the parts themselves and play on only one instrument.
    – Richard
    Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 15:41
  • Thanks for the enhanced answer. As you would expect, your style 3 appears to be correct for this piece. I was listening to it while following the score. What's the difference between 1 and 4?
    – badjohn
    Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 15:42
  • 1
    @badjohn Good call, I was unclear, and I've now edited it: the French style only uses the treble clef, but the Italian style uses both treble and bass.
    – Richard
    Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 15:44

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