In addition to the treble (G) and bass (F) clefs, the C clef is regularly used in music today. The C clef denotes a given line as the location of middle C (the C located closest to the middle of a piano keyboard). Historically, the C clef was located on any line of the staff. Following are the five C clefs along with their names:
Today, the most commonly found locations for the C clef are the third line as middle C–called the alto clef:
or the fourth line as middle C–called the tenor clef:
The alto clef is used primarily for the viola, for which it is the normal clef. The viola is a string instrument that has a pitch range between that of a violin (treble clef) and a cello (bass clef). The tenor clef is used occasionally for the cello, bassoon, and trombone (the normal clef for all of which is the bass clef) when their notes are in a higher register than normal. Use of an appropriate clef allows most of the music to be notated on the staff, eliminating the awkward use of numerous lines added above or below the staff to extend its range (“ledger lines”).
The C clefs are important to know if you plan to study or perform early music, to work with orchestral instruments, or to continue the study of music theory.
In the following example, middle C is notated in four different clefs:
This is a link to a (printable) reference sheet that has all the names of the notes in each of the four clefs shown above.
C clefs demonstrated