Commonly Used Types of Clefs

Vearthy
Vearthy/Wikimedia Commons

Clefs are one of the most common symbols you'll see in music​ and the first thing to appear on the staff. Read on to learn about four different clefs you might encounter in sheet music.​

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Treble clef with g1 quarter-note
Artur Jan Fijałkowski/Wikimedia Commons

The treble clef is the most commonly used clef in music. The symbol used for the treble clef looks like the letter "G" with the bottom part encircling the second line of the staff. This indicates that the note on the second line is a G, that's why the treble clef is also known as G clef. Many woodwind, brass and tuned percussion instruments with higher ranges use the treble clef. On the piano, the treble clef is played by the right hand. More »

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Bass clef with note
Artur Jan Fijałkowski/Wikimedia Commons

Another type of clef is the bass clef. The symbol used for the bass clef is like a stylized apostrophe with two dots to the right of it. In between the dots is the fourth line of the staff indicating the placement of the note F below middle C. This is why the bass clef is also known as F clef. Musical instruments in the lower ranges, such as the bass guitar, use the bass clef. On the piano, the bass clef is played by the left hand. More »

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C Clef

Alto clef with note
Artur Jan Fijałkowski/Wikimedia Commons

The symbol used for the C clef is like a stylized letter B with the center part indicating the placement of middle C. This clef is moveable, meaning whichever line the center part of the C clef points to becomes middle C. When the middle part of the C clef points to the third line of the staff, it is called the alto clef. The alto clef is used when playing the viola. When the middle part of the C clef points to the fourth line of the staff it is called the tenor clef. Musical instruments like the double bass and bassoon use the tenor clef.

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Rhythm Clef

Percussion clef
Popadius/Wikimedia Commons

Also known as the neutral clef and percussion clef. Unlike the other clefs, the rhythm clef shows rhythm and not pitches. This type of clef is used when playing non-pitched instruments such as a drum set, gong, maracas, tambourine or triangle.