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Thread: Learning euphonium in treble vs. bass clef

  1. #1

    Question Learning euphonium in treble vs. bass clef

    I am a tuba player, and now my son this school year became old enough to start a band instrument. His fifth-grade band teacher only wanted to provide the options of flute, clarinet or trumpet for his students. When my son told him he wanted to play lower brass, the teacher offered to let him play euphonium. (He's the only student doing this.) Excellent, I thought, since I have a euphonium at home already and I understand how to play it.

    But I just got thrown for a loop. We are two months into the school year, and I've just figured out that he's teaching my son to play euphonium based on treble clef music. I understand the reason he's doing this... He can talk to the trumpet students and my son in the same "language." But I am worried that this will really mess him up when he moves onward toward high school band and suddenly is expected to read bass clef music.

    My questions for the really smart folks on this forum:

    1. Is this a big deal? My first glance at the comparitive treble and bass notes tells me it would certainly confuse me if I were trying to switch from the way I learned in bass clef to what he's learning now in treble clef. Does anyone have any experience with this transition, either as a student or as a teacher?

    2. I am assuming that the teacher has no inclination to try to teach him in bass clef, so what should I do? Try to introduce bass clef to my son on the side, or just leave it alone? Would it be better for him to play trumpet from the beginning rather than learn euphonium and then have to cross his wires to relearn reading the music?

    Thanks to anyone who can provide help with this!

    Greg (KKY 1991)

  2. #2
    He will need to learn BC at some point, but maybe not right away (and if he learned in BC he would also want to learn TC, but that can usually wait longer). First thing to ask is whether the high school band parts are available in treble clef. Most standard music comes with parts in both clefs.

    Treble is a logical choice for now in many ways. First he IS playing a Bb instrument, so it makes sense to play with no valves when you play a written C. Also, he will have the option of using trumpet books, which can be convenient. For years, the Arban book was only "good" in treble clef because the bass clef version had many errors and left a bunch of good stuff out. Now that better versions are published in BC, it is still cheaper to buy the TC version. And in his immediate circumstances, it is probably less confusing to learn the same way the trumpet players do.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams Artist (Adams E3)
    YouTube: dwerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    Twitter: davewerden
    Instagram: davewerdeneuphonium

  3. It is absolutely necessary to learn BOTH!

    A lot of the older wind band works (late 1800's to early 1900's) are scored in Treble only, while a lot of new works (mid-late 1900s) are scored only in bass. Only some publishers with an international market will provide both parts.

    Piano players learn both at the same time, I think it will be a steeper learning curve and there is also a challenge to provide him with enough music in either clefs for him keep up the reading skill on both fronts.

    And then there is Tenor Clef =)

  4. #4
    I agree with the others that it eventually will be necessary to learn both. I started in bass clef back in the late '50s, and I really don't remember what occasioned my learning "trouble" clef, but I was reading it by the time I was in high school. I actually prefer treble for solo work -- fewer ledger lines

    Let him get used to just playing first, and then get some simple pieces in both clefs and put them side by side on the music stand. That should make it reasonably easy.

  5. Quote Originally Posted by davewerden View Post
    First he IS playing a Bb instrument, so it makes sense to play with no valves when you play a written C.
    I'm trying (and failing) to understand the logic of this statement.

    Euphs and baritones are pitched in Bb, but they're only notated as Bb instruments in TC (and some regionally published French/BeNeLux wind band music); in BC they're notated as C instruments.

    To me, it's simpler and makes more sense for the written pitch to match concert pitch (which is the convention for the overwhelming majority of published music) than a transposed pitch, regardless of the pitch of the open bugle.

    I suspect that a person's clef preference is largely a matter of which clef she learns first.

  6. #6
    My sense that Bb is a logical choice is part of a philosophy I have about the relationship between the player and instrument. Some day I'll try to write more about that, but it is surely not a widely-recognize theory (yet!).

    However, for most of a public school player's experience, treble clef will reduce the number of ledger lines, so there is a small advantage there. While I was in the USCG Band we encountered music that was only BC, but it was a fairly rare experience. On the other hand, it is even more rare to encounter music that is only in TC unless you are in the brass band realm.

    Brass bands developed the method of writing all instruments (except the bass trombone) transposed for a couple of reasons, I suspect. Partly it enables some sharing of learning materials, but it also enables players to change instruments if they need/want to. There is a decent brass band movement in the USA, and there are opportunities to play in amateur brass bands in many locations.

    And transposed parts are used by the clarinet world. Why wouldn't bass clarinet be scored in bass clef? It is as logical as scoring euphonium in BC. And the same question applies for bari and tenor sax. So writing transposed parts is not uncommon.

    But there is no question that referring to a concert C as "C" is logical, too. If all other instruments were in concert pitch it would save band directors a lot of mental effort and help eliminate misunderstandings as they try to communicate from the podium!

    It is fairly well accepted that kids can learn other languages much more easily than adults, and that when one learns other languages early in life, that enables more easily learning new languages later in life. So the answer we should all be able to agree on is that players are better off if they learn both clefs earlier rather than later. (And I might even add the "third" skill to read from concert treble clef music, even with our lower-octave displacement, so one could readily play the melody from a piano part.)
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams Artist (Adams E3)
    YouTube: dwerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    Twitter: davewerden
    Instagram: davewerdeneuphonium

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by typoz View Post
    I am a tuba player, and now my son this school year became old enough to start a band instrument. His fifth-grade band teacher only wanted to provide the options of flute, clarinet or trumpet for his students. When my son told him he wanted to play lower brass, the teacher offered to let him play euphonium. (He's the only student doing this.) Excellent, I thought, since I have a euphonium at home already and I understand how to play it.

    But I just got thrown for a loop. We are two months into the school year, and I've just figured out that he's teaching my son to play euphonium based on treble clef music. I understand the reason he's doing this... He can talk to the trumpet students and my son in the same "language." But I am worried that this will really mess him up when he moves onward toward high school band and suddenly is expected to read bass clef music.

    My questions for the really smart folks on this forum:

    1. Is this a big deal? My first glance at the comparitive treble and bass notes tells me it would certainly confuse me if I were trying to switch from the way I learned in bass clef to what he's learning now in treble clef. Does anyone have any experience with this transition, either as a student or as a teacher?

    2. I am assuming that the teacher has no inclination to try to teach him in bass clef, so what should I do? Try to introduce bass clef to my son on the side, or just leave it alone? Would it be better for him to play trumpet from the beginning rather than learn euphonium and then have to cross his wires to relearn reading the music?

    Thanks to anyone who can provide help with this!

    Greg (KKY 1991)
    I'm only reflecting my own experience, but I'd echo Dave's answers. I (like many others here, I suspect) was switched from trumpet to euphonium by my high school band director, and so originally played only TC parts. I later decided to learn trombone prior to my senior year, and so learned BC. It really isn't that big a deal. Your son will want to be able to play both eventually (and probably at least tenor clef as well; I find myself covering a lot of trombone parts on euph), but it seems to me the thing now is to concentrate on basic playing skills (which, being a tuba player, you can help with), and leave the clef transitions until later.

    --Frank

  8. #8
    When/if a treble clef players wishes to start playing bass clef, there are two choices. One is just starting from scratch and learning to read in the new clef. The other is by transposing. In my case I learned to transpose at sight first, and that gradually became reading without transposing as I got used to it.

    Here is a blog article about learning bass clef by transposing:

    http://www.dwerden.com/forum/entry.p...Clef-Euphonium
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams Artist (Adams E3)
    YouTube: dwerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    Twitter: davewerden
    Instagram: davewerdeneuphonium

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by davewerden View Post
    When/if a treble clef players wishes to start playing bass clef, there are two choices. One is just starting from scratch and learning to read in the new clef. The other is by transposing. In my case I learned to transpose at sight first, and that gradually became reading without transposing as I got used to it.
    My experience was much like Dave's. As a trumpet and TC euph player, those fingerings were hard-wired. When I took up BC, having been a pianist, I knew the notes but not their euph fingerings, and got started by transposing up a step.

    Point is, over time, the reflexive "see the note, press the right valve(s)" took over, just as it did in the treble clef.

  10. #10
    It seems that I am in the minority in that I started on Euph as a bass clef only reader. I added tenor when playing Trombone in high school, but it would take a while to become fluent again.

    I regret not learning treble as a child. Does anyone have a recommendation of how to go about learning Bb treble?

    Don Winston

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