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I can read the treble clef because I learned it as a kid for guitar and school music lessons, but I've only been introduced to bass clef as an adult singing tenor and trying to pick up piano and bass. While I know how it works intellectually and can fake knowing it (two letters different) I can't seem to get it engrained.

I'm sure with time it'll happen naturally, I don't use bass clef that often. Are there any specific exercises you can recommend to get it burnt into my brain so it's natural?

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    From the way you describe your question, part of the problem lies in thinking about bass clef in terms of treble clef; you're "transposing" in order to make it work. Advice: One method is to accept bass clef on it's own terms as a separate thing. Use flashcards. Write the names of notes in your music until you don't need it. Exposure = internalization – jjmusicnotes Oct 30 at 13:32
  • I just wind up saying 'ace G' quite a lot. – AJFaraday Oct 30 at 15:41
  • @jjmusicnotes you are exactly right, I view it in terms of treble and am trying to get the transposition engrained. Rather than learning it in its own right, as I think you're saying – Mr. Boy Oct 31 at 14:40
  • @AJFaraday - All Cows Eat Grass... – Tim Oct 31 at 17:54
  • @Tim that one’s new to me. Good one! – AJFaraday Oct 31 at 18:01
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It's the same advice (of course) I give and adopt for most things. Lots of practice. Play or sing lots of music using bass clef. I still don't read the alto and tenor clefs (not to mention the soprano clef) that well. However, when composing music for viola, I always leave in the C clefs to force myself to read these. None of these are too hard. The G clefs wrap around G, the F clef(s) wrap (couple of dots in modern versions) around F, and the C clefs center on C. Usually this helps. I have found that I don't "transpose" to the clefs, I just read them directly.

It's easy to get used to the bass clef by playing lots of piano music. It need not be difficult music, just something that can be sightread.

  • I think when playing, you can easily do so without actually learning it... your hands might map to the keyboard but your brain doesn't. – Mr. Boy Oct 31 at 14:42
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You could try thinking of it in this way. Concentrate on middle C. In the treble clef it is of course on the first leger line below the stave. Imagine handing over the same note to the bass clef, so it's now on the first leger line above the stave. The bass clef is just a continuation of the treble clef in this way. Once you understand that concept, you can fan out and learn the next note, B, etc. I hope that might help.

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A method I employed was to start with what I would call "anchor notes." Based on what @Jomiddnz suggested, perhaps begin with C, as middle C is the first ledger line above the staff (when the F-clef is notated), and know that the second space from the bottom of the staff is also C.

From C, I used perfect intervals because they were approximately in the middle of octaves of C. I remembered that the perfect fourth above was an F, and the perfect fifth above was G. Using those pitch classes as reference points, I could determine the pitches between those points. Eventually, through practice and exposure, I "filled in the gaps" and could identify other pitches (E, B, etc.).

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The method that I used was simple. To start with I just practiced reading the notes the same way I practiced reading words when I was in first grade at school. I didn't worry about playing them or singing them, just reading them for a few minutes each day until I could recognize them on sight without having to analyze their position. Once I could do that, the singing and playing came much easier for me. I used the same process when it came to recognizing Chords on sight, but that took a little longer for me to accomplish. The more I do it the quicker I get.

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In part the problem may be about think that learning to read bass clef means memorizing the letters for the lines and spaces.

That may seem the obvious way that a clef is read, but another way to read is by the relative movements. Consider a melody starting on F3 - the F on which the bass clef is centered. Instead of reading something like F C E G, read like start on F, P4 down M3 up m3 up....

Combine that with reciting the letters ascending and descending in thirds (B D F... and B G E...) and in fifths (B F C... and B E A...). Reciting letters through triad inversion (A C E, C E A, E A C...) is a good method too. This is the thing to memorize as fixed and concrete. This should be internalized.

Putting both together, if a clef tells you the middle line is C and the next note ascends a fourth the next note is F. Knowing the specific letter comes from the internalize knowledge of the letter sequence of descending fifths.

In a way, you don't need to know the letters of the notes provided your move the correct interval distances. Again that may sound odd, but if your music reading starts to involve lots of different clefs or transposing on the fly, you start to develop a much more fluid sense of what the letters of the staff are.

After gaining experience reading bass clef you will end up memorizing lines and spaces. Like the bottom space is A, the middle line is D, etc. But it's probably better to let that come naturally instead of through rote memorization or mnemonics.

I don't use bass clef that often... Are there any specific exercises...

One way to look for material is get vocal or contrapuntal music where the bass part will have greater melodic quality that homophonic bass. Cut to the chase and get Bach's 371 Harmonized Chorales and just play the bass parts.

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You need to practice, but you have to do it the right way. If you keep practicing by "transposing" the treble key, you'd be slowing down your progress severely, and strengthening a bad habit.

So, start with a few notes, and read them without having the treble key in mind at all. That first line is G, and first space is A. Period. Assign a note to that figure, without needing reference to anything else.

Probably, you are much slower while reading the bass clef because you are constantly referencing the treble clef, which takes more processing power from your head. And you probably made a habit out of it.

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