enter image description here

Complete newbie here, i've been handed this piece of music and im not completely sure how to read it. Can someone tell me how to read this piece and what is says? i know it looks simple but im not that musically inclined. Thank you in advance

  • 2
    Key word to look up on wiki: tenor clef (1) and octava (2) liveabout.com/8va-symbol-2701434 Feb 9 '20 at 11:28
  • @AlbrechtHügli when suggesting that someone look something up, it helps to spell it correctly: ottava. The full phrase is all'ottava, meaning "at the octave."
    – phoog
    Feb 9 '20 at 15:44
  • @phoog when correcting someone, be sure you aren't crossing language-specific spellings :-) Feb 10 '20 at 16:56
  • 1
    As always, dolmetsch.com/musicalsymbols.htm Feb 10 '20 at 16:56
  • @CarlWitthoft "octava" is the correct spelling in Spanish, but it is not the source of the abbreviation.
    – phoog
    Feb 10 '20 at 19:41

The first example uses 'tenor clef'. Still in everyday use by orchestral trombonists and cellists. Look at it as an ornate letter C, wrapped round the 4th line - it indicates that line is middle C. So the note is G above middle C.

I guess I don't have to explain the bass clef? The note is A above middle C (count up the 'ladder' of ledger lines). The 8va above tells us to play it one octave higher.


8va means the note so notated to be played one octave higher than shown.So it's going to be the A normally written on the first ledger line above the treble clef. 15ma means two octaves higher than shown; 8vb means an octave lower than shown (but is actually redundant, as 8va placed in the right position (up or down) does the proper job.

Ostensibly, since the A note is actually written on the bass clef, if it's for piano, it's played with l.h. Although I suspect it's written for double bass.

The first example is a strange sign that's moveable. Its centre denotes middle C So counting upwards, the note shown is G - the G above middle C. That sign usually has its centre on a line, and can be moved in order to accomodate certain instruments' ranges.

  • I thought two 8vas higher would be 16 higher, but correct would be 15ma (quindicessima). Feb 9 '20 at 11:35
  • In piano music, hands are not assigned to clefs. Generally, in beginner music, the LH plays in the bass clef and the RH plays in the treble clef, but that is only until students are used to reading the clefs and know where all the notes are located on the piano. I read two treble clefs or two bass clefs quite often, and I also have played music written on a normal Grand Staff in which one hand crosses the other and plays notes in the other clef.
    – Heather S.
    Feb 9 '20 at 11:50
  • @HeatherS. - that may be the case, but I'd say that it's generally the case. All the stuff I have to play is written in two staves for the purpose of which hand plays which. Obviously two treble staves mean l.h. plays treble - but even then, would you agree that l.h. plays the lower? I'm putting a figure of >90% on music that has treble/bass clefs and each hand plays its appropriate clef.
    – Tim
    Feb 9 '20 at 12:17
  • Although they are not moved in practice in modern times, the F and G clefs are also movable, and were used as such in the renaissance and baroque periods. Also, 8vb is a spurious 20th-century invention by people who don't speak Italian; actually "8va" means "at the octave" without regard to direction, which is indicated by placing the notation above or below the note, and the notation for two octaves is 15ma, not 15va.
    – phoog
    Feb 9 '20 at 15:51
  • @phoog - points taken, edited accordingly. Thanks.
    – Tim
    Feb 9 '20 at 16:01

Let’s assume you know to read the treble clef with G on the 2nd line and middle C on the 1st ledger line below the staff.

The clef we have at the left end of the 5 line system is an old clef (tenor clef) assigning that C is on the 4th line (lines are counted from down to up).

You can think this 4th line as a the broken line (ledger line) of the middle C and cut the 3 lines below and add them on the top of the system. So the 4th line of C becomes the ledger line, the 5th line becomes the 1st line (E) and the note you are asking is om the 2nd line (G).

If you know to read the Bass clef you can progress analog: imagine this clef is on the 1st ledger line above the staff: 4th line = 1st ledger line (middle C), 5th line = 2nd ledger line (E) etc.

Your second example is answered by Tim. There’s nothing to add (to find more information look up 8va, clefs, tenor clef and also alto clef - where the C-clef is a line lower and the G will be on the 1st ledger line above the system.) btw. The dotted line behind 8va assigns how long the passage has to be play an 8ve higher, sometimes they write loco when the dots end and you have to play local again.

Looking up 8va I found this link:


Help for reading C-clefs: draw a staff system on a transparent film and lay the middle C (ledger line) over the line with the C-clef.

  • A is on the 2nd ledger line below the treble clef.
    – Heather S.
    Feb 9 '20 at 11:42
  • 1
    We don't have the term "violin clef" in English. I suppose you mean "treble clef."
    – phoog
    Feb 9 '20 at 15:54
  • @ Heather : I don’t understand your objection. What I am missing? Feb 9 '20 at 17:32
  • @phoog: thank you. treble clef (like treble recorder!) I once new it - just didn't remember. Feb 11 '20 at 11:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.