The Tenor Clef

 The tenor clef is a “C” clef, which means it shows us where middle C is written on the stave. We’ve already seen the alto clef (at grade 4), which is also a C clef, and is exactly the same shape. The only difference between the alto and tenor clefs is their position on the stave. The tenor clef points to the second line from the top, whereas the alto clef points to the middle line.

Here is middle C in both clefs:

tenor and alto clefs

When you know where middle C is, you can work out where the other notes are from there.

The tenor clef is used for medium-low pitched music written for the trombone, bassoon or cello. These instruments also use the bass (and sometimes treble) clefs, depending on the pitch of the music. Using the tenor clef avoids using lots of ledger lines.

When a clef change occurs in the middle of a piece of music, the clef is written in a slightly smaller size:

smaller tenor clef

To transpose music into or out of the tenor clef, start by working out the position of middle C in each clef, so that the pitch is kept the same.

Here, the notes are at the same pitch each time. Middle C is circled:

middle Cs in tenor, bass and treble clefs

Here, the notes in the bass clef are an octave lower than those in the tenor. The treble clef notes are an octave higher than the tenor notes:


Look at two chromatic scales using alto and tenor clefs:

Alto clef:

alto clef chromatic scale

 Tenor clef:

tenor clef chromatic scale

Tenor Clef Transposition

To transpose into or out of tenor clef to any other clef, start by working out the first note in relation to middle C.

This tenor clef melody begins on D just above middle C. Let’s transpose it into treble clef.

transpose this melody into treble clef

In the treble clef, begin on D just above middle C (make sure the key signature is written correctly too!)

starting the transposition

Continue to copy the rest of the notes over, keeping the pitch the same – check the distance between each note as you go along (e.g. “one 5th higher”, “a step lower”, etc.) Don’t forget accidentals – they will be next to the same notes. Check if any stem directions need to be changed.

finished transposition

Here’s the same melody, at exactly the same pitch, but written in bass clef. The first note is still D above middle C.

same melody now in the bass clef

Tenor Clef Exercises