Alto Clef: What Is It?

The alto clef may not be as popular as the treble clef or bass clef, but it’s a vital clef type, especially if you are playing the viola. Keep on reading to learn more about this clef. 

What Is the Alto Clef? 

The alto clef, or C clef, marks the middle C position or the third line of the staff. The C note is what separates the high and low notes. 

Diagram showing where the alto clef falls on the music staff

So, why do we have the alto clef? Well, the alto clef was for the alto singers’ range, which falls between the treble and bass clefs. So, rather than having lots of ledger lines (which makes the music sheet cluttered and confusing to read), the alto clef was born. 

How Do You Identify the Alto Clef? 

The alto clef is easy to identify, especially when you think of it by its nickname, the C clef. It earned its moniker as the C clef because its indent sits precisely on the middle line of the stave or staff. This line is dedicated to the middle C, hence the alto clef’s nickname, the C clef. 

Diagram showing where the indent of the alto clef falls.

Unlike the treble clef, which looks like a stylized letter G, the alto clef sports two vertical lines – the left line is thicker, whereas the second one is thinner – and the number three symbol next to the lines, on the right side. 

Diagram showing the anatomy of an alto clef

What Does the Alto Clef Symbolize? 

As mentioned earlier, the alto clef symbolizes that the music is in mid-range tones. Remember, this clef was created to eliminate the confusion and clutter on the musical staff. 

What Instruments Read Alto Clef? 

In addition to the names alto clef and C clef, this type of c clef is also known as the viola clef. Why? This clef is commonly used in viola music because the instrument is not as high as the viola or as low as a cello. 

You may also hear the rare alto trombone, mandola, or viola da gamba using this clef as well. 

What Are the Alto Clef Notes? 

Just like the treble clef, there are alto clef notes to remember. And, as you might have guessed, the notes of alto clef are entirely different from the treble clef, tenor clef, and other clefs. Good thing there are a few tricks that you could use to remember its notes. 

Alto Clef Notes on Lines 

Diagram showing the alto clef notes on lines

If you need alto clef notes on the ledger lines, it is simply, from left to right, F-A-C-E-G. Since the indent of the alto clef places on the third line, you have F for the first line or bottom line, A for the second line, E for the fourth line, and G for the top line. 

These can be a little tricky to remember when you are just getting started. So, to help you memorize it, you can use the mnemonic device: Fat Alley Cats Eat Garbage. Alternatively, you can create your own set of words. Just make sure that the saying you choose is memorable and meaningful enough that you will not forget them. 

Alto Clef Notes on Spaces 

Diagram showing the alto clef notes on spaces

Now, since we’re talking about the spaces of the staff, this time, the middle C, in which the indent of the clef falls on the third line, is not included. Instead, we have the notes G – B – D – F. So, from bottom to top, we have G for the first space, B for the second space, D for the third space, and F for the fourth space. 

Again, don’t worry about trying to memorize these notes right away. Here is a catchy mnemonic: Good – Brakes – Don’t – Fail. You can also remember: Green – Boats – Drift – Freely. Again, you can also come up with your own. 

Final Thoughts 

Remember, in music notation, the alto clef is for middle-range notes. It also goes by the name C clef because its indent is on the middle line of the staff. Some people also call it the viola clef because it’s popular in viola music. And remember the notes of the alto clef: the line notes are F – A – C- E – G, and the notes for the spaces of the alto clef are G – B – D – F.

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