I have a piano theory exam coming soon and I have a question about the modern vocal score in open score. Usually, under the treble clef of the tenor part, there is an 8, but sometimes there isn't. How come it is like that?

(Before are 2 examples: one without the 8 and one with the 8)

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2 Answers 2


Tenor parts are often written in the treble clef. But that means they are then one octave higher than they should be. So a little '8' is written under the clef sign, telling that all the notes are to be sung an octave lower than written. Where there is no '8', you'll notice the notes are written lower on the clef, and are reachable as they are.

  • Likewise, for some instruments you might see an 8 above the clef instead, e.g. piccolo parts, indicating that it is an octave higher. Theoretically, these should exist on bass clefs as well, for very low-range instruments like the double bass or contrabassoon, etc., but I haven't seen this done as much; they tend to just be written on a regular bass clef and play an octave lower by convention. Dec 13, 2019 at 13:59
  • So if I'm writing an short score piece into an open score, the Tenor part goes from the bass clef to the treble. So the rule is to bring it up an octave, so I just bring it up an octave and don't write the 8, correct?
    – iiRosie1
    Dec 13, 2019 at 21:18

Tenor and guitar parts are conventionally written one octave higher than sounded. In correct notation, the 8 below the clef indicates that the sound is one octave lower than the notation. This is important for playing the tenor part at actually sung pitch. In two-staff notation for four-part harmony, tenor and bass are notated together in a single bass clef and the tenor is then written at pitch.

The "correct" presence of the "8" is more dependable the more recent the music is. Modern editions are pretty reliable in that respect.

Particularly in Renaissance and other old music typically performed by male singers only, the tenor part may actually be written in proper treble clef occasionally. This will usually be discernible by a) other movements having the 8 subscript in the tenor part b) the range occupying significant stretches of the lower part of the staff rather than the upper

In contrast to the occasionally murky tenor situation, guitar scores are always played one octave lower than treble clef, regardless of whether the writer thought of including the 8 or not.

  • There's a lot of guitar music that doesn't have the '8' at all. It was a couple of years at least before I realised guitar music was an octave out, but it still got played right. Strange!
    – Tim
    Dec 13, 2019 at 12:49
  • @Tim Why choir music comes with a different clef for the tenor part, and guitar music doesn't, is in itself an interesting question. I suppose in choir music it is a reminder that the sung note in the tenor part sounds an octave lower than the same note in the alto part, for instance, whereas a guitar can be considered a "transposing instrument" that can do without such a warning. The transposition would be implied, as it is for a trumpet or a clarinet.
    – Jos
    Dec 13, 2019 at 13:39
  • @Jos In choir music, you mix various clefs, so you need to make the distinction. I've seen women singing tenor (they do have very low voices) and wondering how can men sing as high as the sopranos :D
    – yo'
    Dec 13, 2019 at 14:17

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