I'm currently doing homework from this textbook (Unfortunately, I don't have the name of the book), where there are these exercises:

Write the following scales in (treble/bass/tenor/alto) clef, ascending and descending. Use (accidentals/key signature) and mark the semitones with slurs:

  1. E major, from (dominant/mediant/supertonic/etc.) to (dominant/mediant/supertonic/etc.)


I don't have a lot of trouble doing the exercises in treble and bass clef and whenever using key signature, but - when it comes to writing in accidentals, in tenor/alto clef, or from [degree] to [degree], that's when I have frustrations.

Are there any tips for me to speed up writing these exercises? Is this like the multiplication table where I should just disregard trying to understand it, but just rote memorization?

For tenor/alto clef, I think I have to go with that route (rote memorization). After all, that's how I learned treble and bass clef - just do it a lot until you know where the notes are on those clefs.

For remembering key signature and accidentals, I could either derive them from the circle of fifths (for keysig) or remember the position of the keys on the keyboard (for accidentals). This is slow at the moment and when a key isn't in my memory, I have to walk through the keyboard in my head along with the "tone-tone-semitone-...".

Additionally, how should I sing/hum out (either out loud or in my head) the scales when I write them down? I could sing out the absolute note names "see-dee-ee-eff..." with pitches, or solfege "do-re-mi...". I thought that having "do" always corresponding to the tonic would be helpful in writing different modes and keys, but my history of fixed solfege is making this change really difficult.

Thank you,

Note: I don't know which search terms to query when it comes to this kind of general question. Please leave me with another StackExchange link if this question had been asked before.

  • 1
    The transition from fixed do to moveable isn't easy. As I've found the other way. However, once you have established the other 'language', it's worth doing that transition. The 'absolute' usage of letter names (including the # and b) wil probably be the best route, as it is - absolute. So, assuming knowledge of key sigs. etc, go that way. The notes that need # or b will show on any stave at all.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 18:31
  • 1
    Rote memorization has been shown by cognitive researchers to be a critical aspect of learning, so it can be the best solution to getting started. Eventually we tend to transcend the memorized facts and learn to understand more deeply, but often that deeper understanding only comes after we do the memorization. Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 19:56
  • Diese Frage hängt mit einigen anderen zum Lesen von Bässen und Tenorschlüsseln zusammen. Sie finden dort gute Antworten. Just look up: how to read the different clefs. Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 18:19

3 Answers 3


The badest mistake that people make is that they try to transpose when they read/write different clefs! As you have learnt to read the Bass clef you should be able to make the transfer recognition that the ledger line between treble and bass clef id the line of c‘. And this ledger lines becomes now the C-line in the tenor and alto clef. If you have checked this out the orientation will be quite easy! s. my answer here:

How can I learn to read bass clef score more naturally?

E.g. the triad c,e,g of c’ is on lines, also the triad c‘,a,f downwards. Don‘t memorize the single tones, learn to read and notate triads and find out the relationship of the tetrachords of different keys, the position of the sharps and flats. (leading tones).

I always recommend to train the do re mi but in your case it will make more sense to practice the abc. In German we add the ending -is to F#. You might invent your own style of singing the altered tones. When you write use the abc adding sharp or flat. When you sing you can use the dore mi or abc.



It sounds like you're on the right track. Simply "memorizing" keys or scales is often less useful than the other kinds of exercises you're proposing -- like thinking of the circle of fifths, trying to derive a scale by imagining it on a keyboard with its tones and semitones, etc. Students who make the fastest progress often employ a diverse set of strategies, which will allow you to make various connections that will become useful later. Yes, it's a struggle at first, but it will pay off with time (like any kind of new skill to learn).

As for the fixed-do problem, I might recommend a compromise. Singing the letter names works, but others sometimes use numbers, where the first scale degree is 1, the supertonic is 2, etc. Perhaps that's different enough from your fixed-do system that it will be easier to map numbers and scale degrees onto the scale. )

Lastly, regarding reading alto and tenor clef, there's really no useful shortcuts for writing out scales there other than learning to read them more fluently. And for that, I'd simply recommend reading a lot of music written on them. It's one thing to look at a clef in abstract and write scales on it -- it's a very different thing to try to play real music with all sorts of intervals in various keys on it. But if you're already fluent reading treble and/or bass clef, it should be easy to practice reading in other clefs. Begin with simple monophonic melodies and play (or sing) them slowly. Only play over a melody until you can read it pretty well, then move on to another. Return to old melodies periodically and see if you can read them at first glance. Read in a variety of keys and you will probably learn the locations of the notes pretty quickly.


Here's a cheat-sheet for the diatonic scales/modes, the location of half-steps, and the sharps/flats.

                                   [    HALF-STEP      ]                          [   HALF-STEP   ]
Scale degree   Tonic   Supertonic  Mediant   Subdominant  Dominant    Submediant  Subtonic  (Tonic)
Mode           Major   Dorian      Phrygian  Lydian       Mixolydian  Minor       Locrian
Key signature
0#/0b          C       D           E         F            G           A           B
1#             G       A           B         C            D           E           F#
2#             D       E           F#        G            A           B           C#
3#             A       B           C#        D            E           F#          G#
4#             E       F#          G#        A            B           C#          D#
5#/7b          B/Cb    C#/Db       D#/Eb     E/Fb         F#/Gb       G#/Ab       A#/Bb
6#/6b          F#/Gb   G#/Ab       A#/Bb     B/Cb         C#/Db       D#/Eb       E#/F
7#/5b          C#/Db   D#/Eb       E#/F      F#/Gb        G#/Ab       A#/Bb       B#/C
   4b          Ab      Bb          C         Db           Eb          F           G
   3b          Eb      F           G         Ab           Bb          C           D
   2b          Bb      C           D         Eb           F           G           A
   1b          F       G           A         Bb           C           D           E

And a cheat-sheet for clefs (data source: Wikipedia).

Clef   Clef            Staff        Defined
Type   Name            Location*    Pitch**

G      Treble          2            G4
G      French violin   1            G4

F      Sub-bass        5            F3
F      Bass            4            F3
F      Baritone        3            F3

C      Baritone        5            C4
C      Tenor           4            C4
C      Alto            3            C4
C      Mezzo-soprano   2            C4
C      Soprano         1            C4

* Staff lines are numbered 1-5, bottom to top.
** G4 = G above middle C
   F3 = F below middle C
   C4 = middle C

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