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Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 3:11 pm
by bobroden
I'm a good reader on trombone in bass clef, but have difficulty applying those skills to music written in treble clef. There's always too much thought involved; I can pick the parts out, but can't read them easily at speed.

Is there any particular approach that people have found helpful for getting comfortable with treble clef on trombone -- any trick of looking at things a certain way, for example -- or is really just a matter of slogging through it for enough hours that eventually it gets easier?

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 3:58 pm
by LeTromboniste
Choose a note, and start the first day playing exercices on that note and the notes immediately above and below it, then the next day go one note further in both directions, and the next one another. After only 5 days you'll have an octave and a half where you're fairly comfortable. Start to play simple music, and go slow. You want to create new synaptic pathways in your brains. They don't appear faster by playing fast, and the more mistakes you make the longer it takes. Then as you get comfortable, keep reading music in that clef every day until it becomes second nature. Take it slow, it does become easier, faster that you think.

Once you're comfortable with the new clef and you feel as confident in it as bass clef, start learning another, and then another, etc. Eventually you start seeing the whole vertical dimension of music notation as one continuous 11 or 12-line staff, where only 5 are shown at a time but you still know where everything is in relation to everything.

Good reasons to learn all clefs, even the most foreign and rare ones : 1) they are a powerful tool - once you know most or all of them, you can transpose at sight almost any music written in any clef, by pretty much any interval you want; 2) learning new clefs improves your sight-reading abilities in the clefs you already know.

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 5:00 pm
by hyperbolica
I think of it as an extension of the grand staff. Connected to the bass clef by middle C. So the bottom line of treble is 2 ledger lines above bass.

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 5:28 pm
by norbie2018
Write bass, alto, and/or tenor clef parts into treble clef and then play them. It's an old-school technique that really works.

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 5:49 pm
by 2bobone
As a Freshman at the Eastman School of Music in 1956, I went to my first private lesson with a teacher dedicated to teaching lower brass. He instructed me to play a middle B Flat and I complied by pressing down the first valve. The teacher's response was, "No --- not A Flat --- B Flat --- B Flat concert pitch". I thought,unsophisticated young man that I was, " That's the same B Flat I use in a concert". His brow tightened as he asked, " You do read bass clef on your instrument, don't you ?" My answer was, "No ----- but I can read it if I'm playing it on the piano !" THAT was when I began to read bass clef on euphonium and let me tell you, it was an uphill climb ! The first book I was learning from was the "Rochut Melodius Etudes"! When you are accustomed to seeing most of what you play written on the treble clef stave, it is very upsetting to see all of the ledger lines that are introduced when you read the same material in bass clef. When you add to that the fact that there are B Flat euphonium parts [ to accommodate players who are transitioning from the B Flat trumpet ] and parts in C as well ---- tenor clef [ very easy to learn if you were already a treble clef euphonium player ]------- alto clef ------- mezzo soprano clef ----- every conceivable clef using the "Movable C clef". I had a roommate when I toured with the National Ballet Company who could sightread the "Blazevich Clef Studies" duets better than any trombonist I'd ever encountered by using the "Movable C Clef" system ---- and he was a clarinetist !! And then, if you think about our dear colleagues, the trumpet players who very often are asked to perform trumpet parts in E Flat, A Flat or G on a trumpet pitched in C, or D or E Flat !! Just imagine the machinations they have to go through to interpolate the key of the composition to use whichever trumpet they are using at the time ! So ---- You are right ----- you must just slog through it for enough hours for it to become easier.
I also play the entire family of recorders. The sopranino, alto and bass are in the key of F and the soprano and tenor are in the key of C ---- but they ALL use almost the exact same fingerings ! Talk about confusing ! But ---- if you are determined, you will accept the challenges that all of these instruments pose so that you can proceed to the ultimate goal of ----- making music !! Happy travels ! I assure you it is worth the effort !

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 5:57 pm
by bobroden
Sincere thank for all the great comments above.

I get the idea of the middle C ledger line connecting the bass and treble clef staffs, and thus the idea of the big grid.

But I’m confused by how to figure octaves into all this. Here’s what I mean:

The C one line above the bass clef staff is the same C that is one line below the treble clef staff. Therefore every note that falls anywhere on the treble clef staff is in the upper range of the trombone; i.e., the range above the C that is one line above the bass clef staff. So by the time you get up to the C in the third space of the treble clef staff, you’ve reached the C that is in the space above the fourth line above the bass clef staff.

So now I look at a transcribed phrase (in treble clef) that starts on the Bb that is in the space above the first ledger line ABOVE the treble clef staff. That note would be what I’d think of as a double-high Bb – an octave above the Bb that is on the fourth line above the bass clef staff. And the passage in question goes up even higher from there.

So to make use of that material I would have to bring it down at least one and probably two octaves. At that point, I’m no longer just reading a grid; I’m reading a grid and moving what I’m reading to another part of the grid, right?

This suggests that I sort of have to divide the treble clef world into several sections based on range, and treat them kind of separately.

It also suggests that I might have to interpret treble clef differently depending on the material in question. For example, in the passage I referred to above, I might think of that double-high Bb as being the Bb immediately above the bass clef staff (i.e., two octaves lower on the grid), so as to give myself some room to go even higher. But if the passage were a descending one, then perhaps I’d think of the Bb as being the one that is one the fourth line above the bass clef staff (i.e., just one octave lower on the grid).

So this leaves me confused, in that it doesn’t seem to be as simple as just getting comfortable with the notes of the treble clef; it seems to mean interpreting the treble clef notes in different ways depending on where they are in the overall range.

Is this what people do, or am I over-thinking it in some way, or is there something that I’m missing?

Gratitude, by the way, to anyone who has taken the time to read and follow this. Much appreciated.

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 6:04 pm
by harrisonreed
There are a few solos that have a few bars in treble clef... but I usually just memorize those bars. I usually encounter treble clef in its transposed form, ie as a brass band part. That's useful to read, and it's nearly the same as tenor clef

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 6:17 pm
by bobroden
I encounter treble clef mainly in two ways. One is at a gig or a jam session, where someone has a piano chart but nothing in treble clef. The other is in instruction books, where the musical examples and exercises are almost always written in treble clef.

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 6:27 pm
by LeTromboniste
bobroden wrote:
Sat Oct 13, 2018 5:57 pm
Sincere thank for all the great comments above.

I get the idea of the middle C ledger line connecting the bass and treble clef staffs, and thus the idea of the big grid.

But I’m confused by how to figure octaves into all this. Here’s what I mean:

The C one line above the bass clef staff is the same C that is one line below the treble clef staff. Therefore every note that falls anywhere on the treble clef staff is in the upper range of the trombone; i.e., the range above the C that is one line above the bass clef staff. So by the time you get up to the C in the third space of the treble clef staff, you’ve reached the C that is in the space above the fourth line above the bass clef staff.

So now I look at a transcribed phrase (in treble clef) that starts on the Bb that is in the space above the first ledger line ABOVE the treble clef staff. That note would be what I’d think of as a double-high Bb – an octave above the Bb that is on the fourth line above the bass clef staff. And the passage in question goes up even higher from there.

So to make use of that material I would have to bring it down at least one and probably two octaves. At that point, I’m no longer just reading a grid; I’m reading a grid and moving what I’m reading to another part of the grid, right?

This suggests that I sort of have to divide the treble clef world into several sections based on range, and treat them kind of separately.

It also suggests that I might have to interpret treble clef differently depending on the material in question. For example, in the passage I referred to above, I might think of that double-high Bb as being the Bb immediately above the bass clef staff (i.e., two octaves lower on the grid), so as to give myself some room to go even higher. But if the passage were a descending one, then perhaps I’d think of the Bb as being the one that is one the fourth line above the bass clef staff (i.e., just one octave lower on the grid).

So this leaves me confused, in that it doesn’t seem to be as simple as just getting comfortable with the notes of the treble clef; it seems to mean interpreting the treble clef notes in different ways depending on where they are in the overall range.

Is this what people do, or am I over-thinking it in some way, or is there something that I’m missing?

Gratitude, by the way, to anyone who has taken the time to read and follow this. Much appreciated.
Octave transposition is a different, also very useful skill, to use in conjunction with knowledge of clefs.

Treble clef down the octave is a standard thing (modern tenor voice parts are notated in that clef, so anytime you read vocal music in a modern edition), and just generally, playing things written for soprano down an octave in the tenor range is very common, so that particular octave clef is quite important to learn.

If you're reading music for trombone notated in treble, most likely it doesn't go too high in the staff, and you can read as is. If reading vocal music, if tenor part, there will be an 8 below the clef, if soprano part, you play down an octave and imagine a small 8 below the clef. If it's an alto part, usually read as is. If it's music written for another instrument, usually it's either a transposing part (in which case you have to figure out the transposition), or it's an actual soprano/treble instrument, in which case you should probably play the music an octave lower.


But in any case, I would recommend first learning whatever clef you're trying to learn without involving octave transposition, and then later on get used to octave transposition, as they are two different skills and trying to do both at once when you master neither can get confusing and hinder your progress...

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 6:27 pm
by LeTromboniste
bobroden wrote:
Sat Oct 13, 2018 6:17 pm
I encounter treble clef mainly in two ways. One is at a gig or a jam session, where someone has a piano chart but nothing in treble clef. The other is in instruction books, where the musical examples and exercises are almost always written in treble clef.
This sounds like two instances where you should be playing down an octave.

Edit : Although for the instruction books, it depends. Are they trumpet/cornet/Bb instrument books? In that case, they can/should be read imagining a tenor clef (C4) and adding two flats to the key signature, as Bb parts sound a 2nd or 9nth than written.

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 6:59 pm
by 2bobone
I hope I am not adding further confusion to this issue, but I think that the primary focus on a central, unifying position for all the instruments of the orchestra is what might clarify things. "C" concert pitch really refers to a "concerted effort" to rally around an agreed place from which further deviation can expand. For instance ---- when a trumpet pitched in B Flat plays a treble clef third space "C", the actual pitch produced will be a B Flat. If he used a trumpet pitched in "C" and played a a treble clef third space "C", the actual pitch produced would be a "C". If he used a trumpet pitched in "D" and played a treble clef third space "C", the actual pitch produced would be a "D". On valved instruments, when no valves are depressed, the actual pitch of the instrument will sound and will reveal what key the instrument is pitched. What is very confusing at first is that the trombone, which is properly referred to as a B Flat trombone [tenors and bass], despite being pitched in B Flat will actually sound the same note that is being played. In other words, the trombone is not a "transposing" instrument like the trumpets which can be in many keys and when playing a "C" will sound other pitches. If the trombonist sees a "C" he goes to third position and gets a "C". The trombone may be pitched in B Flat, but it plays true concert pitches on every note without alteration. I don't know if this is helpfully relevant to the octave issue, but it certainly is a consideration overall. The "rallying point" for all instruments is "Middle C". An alto sax plays a middle "C" but the actual pitch produced is E Flat ---- the tenor sax plays a 'Middle C" and the actual pitch produced is a B Flat. The English horn plays a 'Middle C" and the actual pitch produced is an F. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Evidently, the purpose of all this chicanery is to be able to write the majority of the part to be played mostly on the stave without undue use of ledger lines. You could think of all of this along the same lines of the language medical doctors use to turn a common cold into a sixteen syllable word. Very confusing, but at the same time very necessary . Sorry if this further confuses the matter. Hang in there -------------

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 7:06 pm
by hyperbolica
I practice reading from a hymnal. I like to play treble clef in "concert octave", but sometimes it's necessary to play it down an octave. The ability to transpose at sight by an octave is something you should practice. I think musicians of any instrument should be able to read both treble and bass clefs. Piano is an important skill. Reading from a hymnal is also an important skill. Might just take some practice.

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 8:08 pm
by BGuttman
Just to try to categorize things:

1. There is non-transposed treble clef sometimes interpolated into trombone and cello music. This is to be played as if it's in the great staff. I remember an edition of Brahms' Academic Festival Overture which was in bass clef for the 1st trombone. There is a high Ab and later a high Db that for some reason are notated in non-transposing treble. It's properly notated in the alto clef version without the treble chicanery.

2. There is treble clef as used in things like Fake Books and hymnals in C. This should be played an octave down: third space C in treble clef is played line above bass clef.

3. There is music written for Trombone in Brass Band which is transposed like trumpet music. In this case you can either learn to read the music as 4th line D is C one line above the bass clef, or add 2 flats and read it as if it's Tenor Clef (the result is the same).

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Mon Oct 15, 2018 8:51 am
by afugate
I studied piano for a number of years before picking up the trombone. Bass clef was easy. Tenor clef? I still sometimes switch between treble and tenor clef in the middle of reading a part... :shuffle:

Regarding the OP, I'm with many others who believe it just takes time/practice.

-- Andy in OKC

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Mon Oct 15, 2018 2:47 pm
by bobroden
Thanks to everyone for all the helpful comments. I think I have a clearer idea now of how I want to approach the task. Not a very sexy undertaking, but should be very worthwhile.

Re: Learning to Read Treble Clef

Posted: Tue Oct 16, 2018 8:02 pm
by 2bobone
We can all agree that the "sexy" part is not the same as the drudgery required to "get there". The sexy part is the end result of being able to play unburdened and with the necessary techniques tucked firmly in your belt ! It gets so much better from there ----------almost as natural as breathing !