What is the Tenor Clef?

In sheet music, there are several different types of clefs that are used for different pitches and instruments. 

Some other types of music clefs include treble clef and bass clef. You’ll probably see these clefs a lot in your sheet music. 

One type of clef, the tenor clef, is a bit rare, but you still might see it used for instruments with a lower range. 

In this post, we’ll take a look at the tenor clef, the instruments that use tenor clef, and a list of tenor clef notes. We’ll also go over how to draw it on a music staff.

So let’s get started by defining, what is a tenor clef?

What is a Tenor Clef?

Tenor clef on music staff (by Wikimedia Commons)

You might encounter the tenor clef if you play a low register instrument like the cello, or you might see it in a music theory exam. Either way, it’s important to know about this type of clef and how it works.

The tenor clef is a type of C clef in music. It is sometimes used by instruments with a middle to lower register. 

It’s the same shape as an alto clef, but it sits a little higher on the staff.

In the middle of the clef (between the two outward spirals) sits the fourth line of the staff. This shows us that the fourth line of the staff is middle C. 

How to Draw a Tenor Clef

Drawing a tenor clef can be a little tricky, but with practice, you’ll be able to draw it like a pro. 

To start, draw a less than sign, <, on the second line of the staff. Then draw a backwards C coming out from the top and the bottom, so it looks sort of like a 3. Finally, draw two vertical lines in front of it, and you’re done!

For a more traditional look, replace the less-than sign (<) with a small bracket around the second staff line, like this [. Then add the curves and lines like normal.

You can also check out this YouTube video for more instructions on how to draw tenor clefs: 

Remember, the < or [ part of the clef goes around the second staff line. The top curve reaches above the top line of the staff, and the bottom curve reaches around the middle staff line.

What Instruments Play Tenor Clef?

The tenor clef is a little more common than the alto clef. It’s used by instruments that are low pitched, but are playing in a higher register.

This includes instruments like the trombone, bassoon, cello, and once in a while, the double bass, but only when playing in their top register.

When these instruments play in a lower register, they typically use a bass clef.

Notes on the Staff

Since the tenor clef is a type of C clef, it shows us where to find middle C on the staff. We can use that to figure out where all the other notes are on the staff as well.

notes in tenor clef staff (by Wikimedia Commons)

On the staff lines, going up from the bottom, we have D, F, A, C, and E.

In the spaces, we have E, G, B, and D.

Here’s a picture of C major scale:

C scale in tenor clef (by Wikimedia Commons)


It’s important to learn about the different types of music clefs, and the tenor clef is no exception. And if you are taking grade 5 music theory exams, you will want to know about the different types of clefs, especially C clefs.

Remember, with C clefs, the shapes are the same, but they sit at different points on the music staff.

Do you have any questions about tenor clefs? Let me know in the comments!

Jessica Roberts
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