ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

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PaulT
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ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by PaulT » Wed Jan 15, 2020 10:33 am

I was surprised opening day of my first day of Trombone Choir. I had two pieces in Tenor Clef. I had never seen Tenor Clef before. I had to ask the fellow next to me what the hell it was. He was nice, but within three words of explanation, I knew I was screwed.

I've googled it. I found a conversion chart. I'm not happy with it but I guess I have to learn it. Learning is supposed to be good (grumble).

Any tips? Short cuts? Words of encouragement or greater purpose? Is Tenor Clef common or useful? Why do they do this? Four and five sharps are pain enough, why pull the rug out from under you completely? Arghh!
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by hyperbolica » Wed Jan 15, 2020 11:01 am

The line it points to is middle C. Learn it. It opens all sorts of musical options to you that are otherwise unavailable. If you don't learn it, the best you'll ever be able to do is second chair.

ps, did you know there's also an alto clef?
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by BurckhardtS » Wed Jan 15, 2020 11:09 am

Tenor and alto clef are very prolific in orchestral music. Most original orchestra parts were written in tenor clef. There's editions of Shostakovich and Dvorak symphonies with alto clef in the bass trombone part. You should learn it. It actually makes reading high notes way easier.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by Crazytrombonist505 » Wed Jan 15, 2020 11:11 am

Try finding some orchestral excerpts online or a method book such as Clef Studies by Blazhevich and work on those. They have helped me a lot with learning to read tenor clef. A little trick that helps me is to remember that the note I see in tenor clef is a step up from what it would be in treble clef. For example, the note that the clef symbol centers on (middle C) would be a D in treble clef but in Tenor clef, it's a C. That will help you get started with Tenor clef, and if you keep at it, Tenor clef will become easier to read for you. The important thing to remember is NOT to avoid it. You learn by doing. Good luck!
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by ArbanRubank » Wed Jan 15, 2020 11:15 am

The right answer is to learn it. But for those of us subversives, there is - hypothetically speaking - another way. That hypothetical other way would be to write it out as is using a free-ware musical notation program and then - click, click - have the program translate it into bass clef and print it out for you!
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by GBP » Wed Jan 15, 2020 11:38 am

If you are playing in a trombone choir you will need to just learn it. Parts are in tenor an clef all the time.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by paulyg » Wed Jan 15, 2020 11:49 am

Tenor clef is like all those other skills- it comes in handy. Not only are most orchestra 1st and 2nd parts written in tenor (or alto) clef, but it's extremely handy for reading Bb treble clef music (baritone music, trumpet music, ect).
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by baileyman » Wed Jan 15, 2020 12:33 pm

For anyone playing tunes, which are always treble clef, concert key, the workaround is to imagine you're reading a trumpet part transposing treble. But I see in the jazz and commercial context more and more tenor clef, where it just does not belong. It's a shibboleth. Whatever, it looks like it will have to be dealt with everywhere now.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by Vegasbound » Wed Jan 15, 2020 12:34 pm

Learn to read tenor/ alto /brass band treble/concert treble that way you are not limiting your playing options and can be more employable as a player
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by JLivi » Wed Jan 15, 2020 12:48 pm

PaulT wrote:
Wed Jan 15, 2020 10:33 am
I had to ask the fellow next to me what the hell it was. He was nice, but within three words of explanation, I knew I was screwed.

I've googled it. I found a conversion chart. I'm not happy with it but I guess I have to learn it. Learning is supposed to be good (grumble).
paulyg wrote:
Wed Jan 15, 2020 11:49 am
it's extremely handy for reading Bb treble clef music (baritone music, trumpet music, ect).
Tenor clef is the reason I quit classical music as a young musician (college). And then I started playing in jazz combo and was handed tenor sax and trumpet parts and hung my head in shame :lol:

I'm REALLY bad at reading it, but the easiest way I've gotten through songs before was to picture the note up two lines or spaces, depending on where it is.

So :tenorclef: :space2: = :bassclef: :space4:

Hopefully that makes sense. I've been meaning to buy a clef studies book because that's the only way I'll learn. I can't just pull etudes out and transpose them to tenor clef. I'm mentally weak and lazy in that respect. Good luck with your trombone choir pieces.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by LeTromboniste » Wed Jan 15, 2020 1:15 pm

Yup, it's not just common or useful, it's essential and necessary (unless you only ever play in the few contexts where it is never used).

Tips: sight read a lot of music, take it slow. We all panick the first time, it's normal. Take it slow. It feels impossible at first, but you'll find out it's much easier than it seems, at least if you commit to it. Stay calm, don't get frustrated by your mistakes, you'll make some and it's okay. Did I say take it slow?

I urge you to avoid the quick-fix solutions/crotches like reading two lines higher (essentially transposing) and to put the effort to actually learn it so it becomes confortable.



One conceptual thing that I think makes it easier to master all the clefs and switch between them without too much hesitation (and although it might not be the most helpful to you in the immediate short term, I think it is essential in the long term): Neither the notes nor the lines have moved, it's just that the staff is showing you five different lines than in bass clef. Imagine a piano grand staff, plus the middle C line that is in between them. What we really have is 11 lines, with the C clef on the middle line, the G clef two lines above and the F clef two lines below. Now when you get a part, the staff focuses only on 5 of those lines, but the rest are still there, just hidden. In other words, the clefs don't tell you where the notes are, they tell you which 5 of the 11 lines you are seeing, and although any given note doesn't have a fixed place on the staff, it does have one single unique place relative to all the other notes, to the three clefs and to the 11 lines. If you can dissociate your muscle memory and your concept of each note from the fixed position where the notes appear physically on the page, and instead associate them to the more abstract concept of where the notes lie in the entire vertical scale, then it doesn't matter what exotic clef you're suddenly given or how many crazy clef changes you have to do. You can navigate the system and always know where you are.

It's not uncommon for me to have to read in four different clefs on any given day, sometimes five or even six. That would be entirely impossible if I needed to associate notes with specific shapes on the page.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by BGuttman » Wed Jan 15, 2020 1:35 pm

Note: You can get the Blazhevich studies for free on IMSLP. It's called "School for Trombone".

If you can find the Mantia "Trombone Virtuoso" there is a section with entire exercises in alto, tenor, and transposing treble clef (but no switching).

Reginald Fink published books called "Introducing the Tenor Clef" and "Introducing the Alto Clef". I think Brad Edwards has also published books like this that are more modern.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by Bach5G » Wed Jan 15, 2020 1:36 pm

Do some every day even if it’s only 10-15 minutes. No big deal.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by Doug Elliott » Wed Jan 15, 2020 2:11 pm

Learn 3 easy notes in tenor today. Like low Bb, F, and middle Bb. Tomorrow add another note, and each day after. In a week you'll be reading it.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by norbie2018 » Wed Jan 15, 2020 2:27 pm

Transcribe - preferably with pencil and paper - music from bass clef into tenor clef, then play it. Start with simple music and progress to more advanced. You'll internalize the new clef very rapidly. It is an old-school technique which works.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by marccromme » Wed Jan 15, 2020 3:04 pm

norbie2018 wrote:
Wed Jan 15, 2020 2:27 pm
Transcribe - preferably with pencil and paper - music from bass clef into tenor clef, then play it. Start with simple music and progress to more advanced. You'll internalize the new clef very rapidly. It is an old-school technique which works.
So true, this is the way my then 10 year old girl learned to read a new clef on french horn within a week. It really works!

And the above mentioned approach to regard the clef signature as only showing which 5 of the many staff lines are visible is working too. After all, pianists are doing this all the time simultaneously, so we certaincan do it one clef a time ...

Practice simple melodies in odd clefs, and you brain will work it out for you, without thinking. Don't think, just play
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by harrisonreed » Wed Jan 15, 2020 5:09 pm

PaulT wrote:
Wed Jan 15, 2020 10:33 am
I was surprised opening day of my first day of Trombone Choir. I had two pieces in Tenor Clef. I had never seen Tenor Clef before. I had to ask the fellow next to me what the hell it was. He was nice, but within three words of explanation, I knew I was screwed.

I've googled it. I found a conversion chart. I'm not happy with it but I guess I have to learn it. Learning is supposed to be good (grumble).

Any tips? Short cuts? Words of encouragement or greater purpose? Is Tenor Clef common or useful? Why do they do this? Four and five sharps are pain enough, why pull the rug out from under you completely? Arghh!
Tough love:

Is tenor clef common or useful? Yes, and yes

Why do they do this? So that you can play tenor music that doesn't have 4 or 5 ledger lines above the staff.

Four and five sharps are pain enough, why pull the rug out from under you completely? So that the listeners get to hear something other than music in Bb. "They" aren't doing anything to you. The music is not really about you, unless you're an actual artist. Even then, composers and musicians cringe when really great artists deviate too far from the composer's intent. So, the reverse should be true. You need to be about the music.

If tenor clef bugs you, just rewrite it! :)
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by PaulT » Thu Jan 16, 2020 6:35 pm

Thanks for the:

advice, perspective, commiseration, and tips.

I am in way over my head in this trombone choir. Everyone else is a college musician, former college musician, band instructor, or retired military band. But they are friendly and supportive and great to listen to (the bass trombones were an ear-opener!). And if I don't get thrown out, I will learn quite a bit.

The college student I am taking lessons from, and who me got into the choir, said she'll get me started on tenor clef next lesson. Meanwhile, I got some stuff off the web, ordered a book on Tenor Clef from Hickey's, and will start with those three notes Doug mentioned.

(sheesh, I wish I would have put in a little more work back when I was in high school rather than just blowing my head off in pep band)
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by harrisonreed » Thu Jan 16, 2020 6:48 pm

The range songs book from David Vining is all mostly tenor clef, as well. Its easier to learn if the music is melodic. Then your brain can make the connection to what the next more is faster than it can decipher what the ink says. If you're mostly right, the actual reading part will make connections faster.

I learned tenor clef by playing pieces I already knew, just transcribed into tenor clef. Like rochut.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by Bach5G » Thu Jan 16, 2020 6:57 pm

There’s no shame in writing in a few note names to remind you where you are.

Pressure, for example, in a concert, can do funny things.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by Kingfan » Thu Jan 16, 2020 8:28 pm

I have two Blazhevich books in the Classified section, one clef studies and one duets with lots of tenor and alto clef work. Look for them on that forum, or PM me if interested.
I'm not a complete idiot, some parts are still missing! :D
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by timothy42b » Fri Jan 17, 2020 9:05 am

baileyman wrote:
Wed Jan 15, 2020 12:33 pm
But I see in the jazz and commercial context more and more tenor clef, where it just does not belong. It's a shibboleth.
I would rather just see concert pitch treble clef. I cannot play above the top line F anyway, so ledger lines go away.

Actually for trombones using the great staff would make ledger lines unnecessary for most of us! But that will never happen, so we have to read clefs. I had tenor clef in the 3rd part in trombone choir this past week.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by Doug Elliott » Fri Jan 17, 2020 10:11 am

Just like languages, it's easier to learn when you're young. Don't put it off.

And alto clef, and treble if you don't already read it.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by Jimprindle » Fri Jan 17, 2020 10:16 am

My private teacher had me learn alto clef first, after that tenor clef was easy. I taught it to students by having them learn all the first position notes first, then the other notes are relative to them. The R. Fink book is very good.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by bkessler » Fri Jan 17, 2020 10:57 am

Tenor clef is super useful. Even if you don't play orchestral music, it does pop up many other places. The way I most often use it is reading trumpet/clarinet/tenor sax music, which opens up a lot more repertoire.

Different people have very different ways of learning, so I think trying a few different approaches is the way to go. Try each of these, and see which one clicks (each of my students seems to find one of these approaches works better than the others, but it varies widely from student to student):

1) Find a few "goalpost" notes, and work further from there. Bb, F, Bb are great places to start. Remember that with these goalposts, you can use what you already know. Once you've played a low Bb, if the next few notes look like a scale, they still are, they're just starting on a different note.

2) Mentally move everything up two lines or two spaces. If a note looks like low A, move it up two spaces, which gives you E. If a note looks like a middle line D, move it up two lines, which gives you an A.

3) If you read treble clef well (from learning something like recorder or piano), just pretend each note is is in treble clef, then move it down a step. Something that looks like a D in treble clef will be a C in tenor clef.

4) Get a method book specifically for tenor clef - many good ones listed in the thread above, plus it sounds like you've already ordered one.

5) Get a beginning band method book for trombone, and the same one for trumpet (something like Essential Elements or Standard of Excellence). Add two flats (or take away sharps) to the key signatures in the trumpet book, and try playing the songs as through they are in tenor clef. Use the trombone book to check yourself. Or just look at them side-by-side to compare what the tenor clef version and bass clef version of the same notes would look like.

Good luck, and I hope it goes well. It opens up so many possibilities once you can read it.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by afugate » Fri Jan 17, 2020 5:37 pm

bkessler wrote:
Fri Jan 17, 2020 10:57 am
Tenor clef is super useful. Even if you don't play orchestral music, it does pop up many other places. The way I most often use it is reading trumpet/clarinet/tenor sax music, which opens up a lot more repertoire.
Yep! I often do this with our church orchestra.
3) If you read treble clef well (from learning something like recorder or piano), just pretend each note is is in treble clef, then move it down a step. Something that looks like a D in treble clef will be a C in tenor clef.
I played piano for a dozen years - five of them before I started playing trombone. This is my approach, but if I haven't done any recent tenor clef I still find myself reading as treble clef and failing to transpose down the step. :oops: It's just so ingrained in my head.

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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by LeTromboniste » Fri Jan 17, 2020 9:31 pm

Doug Elliott wrote:
Fri Jan 17, 2020 10:11 am
Just like languages, it's easier to learn when you're young. Don't put it off.

And alto clef, and treble if you don't already read it.
I'll go further and suggest learning even the other clefs that are no longer in use, like baritone (F3), mezzo (C2) and soprano (C1). Most instrumentalists will never encounter them in the wild (although if you're a conductor, soprano clef in particular is critical to know as all the older editions of choral music use it), but the can still be incredibly useful for transposing. Mezzo clef for instance allows you to sightread parts that are in F, which comes in vert handy when you have to cover a horn part in brass ensemble!
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by Doug Elliott » Sat Jan 18, 2020 12:03 am

Yes, mezzo is very useful for reading horn parts, and I've used baritone for transposing. I don't think I've had any real use for soprano. I also use clefs as a starting point for playing harmony lines.

But answering this particular OP who has just seen tenor for the first time with "you should learn all seven clefs!" would be totally overwhelming and counterproductive.

I had a teacher who really pushed me hard. I remember being 11 or 12 years old, and going to an orchestra rehearsal for the first time. One of the pieces was in tenor clef, and I could read it... I had already started working on the Blazhevich Clef Studies.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by Mikebmiller » Sat Jan 18, 2020 12:21 am

I was thrown into the tenor clef fire in high school, when my teacher brought me into play 2nd in our local orchestra. At the first rehearsal, all except one piece was in alto or tenor. Prior to this, he had never mentioned to me that such things even existed. I basically sat there like an idiot through that practice. But I managed to learn it well enough in a week to come back and not embarrass myself. It has been second nature ever since and I prefer it for any that stays in the upper register. Except big band charts. Nobody writes big band parts in tenor.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by harrisonreed » Sat Jan 18, 2020 12:24 am

Sometimes they ought to. I got handed a chart the other day with Ds and Ebs everywhere. So hard to read. Although, at that point, just put it in treble
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by timothy42b » Sat Jan 18, 2020 9:25 am

harrisonreed wrote:
Sat Jan 18, 2020 12:24 am
. I got handed a chart the other day with Ds and Ebs everywhere.
One of our local bass trombone players told me his answer to that. "Take it down an octave and leave it out."
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by Mikebmiller » Sat Jan 18, 2020 12:00 pm

harrisonreed wrote:
Sat Jan 18, 2020 12:24 am
Sometimes they ought to. I got handed a chart the other day with Ds and Ebs everywhere. So hard to read. Although, at that point, just put it in treble
Or give it to the trumpet section.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by BurckhardtS » Wed Jan 22, 2020 11:07 am

Mikebmiller wrote:
Sat Jan 18, 2020 12:21 am
Nobody writes big band parts in tenor.
Maybe not "big band" but I've definitely read pit/commerical books that have high Es and Fs in them, but are written in tenor clef.

As Harrison said, I actually would prefer treble at that point. And I actually have seen a treble clef in a big band lead part before.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by Mikebmiller » Wed Jan 22, 2020 8:49 pm

I would venture that most trombonists who have never taken private lessons or played outside of a concert band setting have no idea how to read tenor. You rarely see it in concert band music and definitely not in HS level band music. So I understand the reaction when it comes up for the first time.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by WGWTR180 » Sun Jan 26, 2020 9:53 am

Years ago I was hired to play with Dudley Moore and about 1 week before the gig I had to bow out. Contractor understood and we found a great bass trombonist. Evidentially on the gig Dudley decides he's doing Bolero as an encore. The entire brass section hired, except for the French Horns, were all commercial players. Not only were the trumpets completely lost but no one in the trombone section could read the solo part. Dudley evidentially was so aggravated he cancelled the encore. Had I been there I could have at least read the clef and most likely played the solo on my bass trombone and my Schilke 60. LOL!
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by Mikebmiller » Mon Jan 27, 2020 6:08 pm

WGWTR180 wrote:
Sun Jan 26, 2020 9:53 am
Years ago I was hired to play with Dudley Moore and about 1 week before the gig I had to bow out. Contractor understood and we found a great bass trombonist. Evidentially on the gig Dudley decides he's doing Bolero as an encore. The entire brass section hired, except for the French Horns, were all commercial players. Not only were the trumpets completely lost but no one in the trombone section could read the solo part. Dudley evidentially was so aggravated he cancelled the encore. Had I been there I could have at least read the clef and most likely played the solo on my bass trombone and my Schilke 60. LOL!
Was Bo Derek going to run across the stage au natural?
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by baileyman » Mon Jan 27, 2020 9:35 pm

Definitely could not have then read tenor clef, or any other clef...
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by WGWTR180 » Tue Jan 28, 2020 5:38 am

Mikebmiller wrote:
Mon Jan 27, 2020 6:08 pm
WGWTR180 wrote:
Sun Jan 26, 2020 9:53 am
Years ago I was hired to play with Dudley Moore and about 1 week before the gig I had to bow out. Contractor understood and we found a great bass trombonist. Evidentially on the gig Dudley decides he's doing Bolero as an encore. The entire brass section hired, except for the French Horns, were all commercial players. Not only were the trumpets completely lost but no one in the trombone section could read the solo part. Dudley evidentially was so aggravated he cancelled the encore. Had I been there I could have at least read the clef and most likely played the solo on my bass trombone and my Schilke 60. LOL!
Was Bo Derek going to run across the stage au natural?
I didn't hear that she was! :lol: :lol:
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by WGWTR180 » Tue Jan 28, 2020 5:43 am

When I was a junior in high school I attended the Brevard Music Center. It was a major eye opening experience for me in many ways. For my placement audition I played something I had prepared and had to sight read. The sight reading was in tenor clef and I had no idea what I was reading and told them "I can't read this." That summer I learned to read tenor and alto clefs.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by Mikebmiller » Tue Jan 28, 2020 2:51 pm

WGWTR180 wrote:
Tue Jan 28, 2020 5:38 am
Mikebmiller wrote:
Mon Jan 27, 2020 6:08 pm


Was Bo Derek going to run across the stage au natural?
I didn't hear that she was! :lol: :lol:
Bo is still all I think about when I hear Bolero.
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Re: ARGHH! Tenor Clef!

Post by WGWTR180 » Wed Jan 29, 2020 5:42 am

Mikebmiller wrote:
Tue Jan 28, 2020 2:51 pm
WGWTR180 wrote:
Tue Jan 28, 2020 5:38 am

I didn't hear that she was! :lol: :lol:
Bo is still all I think about when I hear Bolero.
Oh yeh!!!!!
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