Bass Clef

The bass clef is used to represent notes in the lower pitch range of music. When reading or writing music for the bass guitar, the bass clef and staff are used exclusively. Because the bass is so low in pitch, the notes that appear on the bass clef are written one octave higher than the true pitch of the instrument. This is done to keep the bulk of the written notes centered on the staff itself and not consistently below it. However, this means that the bass will sound one octave lower than the written notes. Fortunately, this issue may only become relevant if you need to communicate specific pitches to other musicians.

An octave is eight steps above or below any given pitch. Steps are measured as intervals. An interval is the space or distance between two notes. An octave always shares the same letter name as its source note, for example, A and A, or C and C. An octave is also one half or double the frequency of its original source pitch.

No matter what clef you're using, musical notes follow the alphabet in the order A-G. After G, the notes repeat again starting with A. Collectively, these notes are called naturals. Reading the bass clef is, in principle, the same as reading the treble clef except that the alphabetical note values are shifted down one line or space position. For example, a C is found one space lower on the bass clef than on the treble clef. Moreover, it sounds three octaves lower on a bass. This is shown in Figure 3-2.

Figure 3-2.

Comparing clefs

On a piano, these notes would be two octaves apart.

On a bass, the bottom C sounds three octaves lower.

Once the F line has been established, it is relatively easy to find the other notes on the bass clef by moving up or down the staff. For example, since line four (from the bottom) is F, the space above it must be G (one letter higher). Moving in the other direction, if line four is F, then one space below line four must be E.

What is an F clef?

An F clef is the same as a bass clef. If you imagine a lowercase F turned backwards, you will see the true symbolic origins of the bass clef. In order to find F on the bass clef staff, simply find the line that straddles the clef's two dots.

An easy way to remember the spaces of the bass clef is to use the mnemonic All Cows Eat Grass (A, C, E, and G). To remember the lines of the staff use Good Boys Do Fine Always (G, B, D, F, and A). This is illustrated in Figure 3-3.

Figure 3-3.

Bass clef and pitches

  1. Home
  2. Bass Guitar
  3. Notation and Tablature
  4. Bass Clef
Visit other About.com sites: