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    C-Clef Letter Names

    Hello, all,

    Lately, I have been thinking a lot about C-clef pedaogy in aural skills courses. I understand the arguments for students to sing C-clef melodies with letter names (i.e. Karpinski)--that singing letter names (or playing on an instrument from C-clef notation) are essentially the only ways to test that students are reading notes in these clefs (instead of simply transposing them). In general, I agree with this, and I have had my own students sing C-clef melodies with letter names for many years. 

    I was wondering if anyone with more aural skills experience than myself has thoughts on this? Do you think it's the best practice for students? Do you think there are additional benefits, or potential drawbacks? Do you have an alternative C-clef pedagogical technique?

    Thanks,

    Chelsey Hamm 

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    • 3 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • Hi Chelsey,

      Here are a few thoughts.

      I believe that playing simple lines on keyboard is a more straightforward starting point than singing, since it focuses more on identification of the actual notes rather than finding the tune by ear. This could be a valuable activity in either a keyboard skills or an aural skills course.

      If you're using repertoire, viola parts can be a difficult starting point. Vocal music has been working well in our courses. If you're using repertoire, viola parts can be a difficult starting point. Vocal music has been working well for us at McGill. Renaissance music comes in handy since it often uses C clefs and isn't full of leaps.

      Starting with reading of single lines lets students get comfortable with the clef before they embark on more complex activities like score reading or sing&play. Somebody else (instructor, students, software) can perform other parts at the same time for context. This way, it's ok if the student has a boring inner part some of the time (a normal experience), because somebody else's part will be supplying additional interest.  

      I'm looking forward to reading what others think about this!

      Justin

       

      ____________________________

      Justin Mariner

      Assistant Professor

      Schulich School of Music

      McGill University

    • I meant to add that I have gotten better results spending a lot of time in one clef, possibly only adding one new clef per semester. Without a lot of time, it's hard to get students good at numerous clefs and instrumental transpositions. It may be better to get them good at a few, so they know what it takes if they need to get good at more of them in the future. 

      ____________________________

      Justin Mariner

      Assistant Professor

      Schulich School of Music

      McGill University

    • One point about C-clef pedagogy that is important for those who also teach about transposing instruments is I'd implore teachers not to assume that the best ordering learns C-clefs first so that one can employ them to read transposing scores.  For students who play transposing instruments, often the best route is the opposite one -- to think about C-clefs from the perspective of how transposing instruments work.  For instance, as a clarinetist, I still read tenor clef the fastest by thinking of it as "what the sounding pitch for a Bb clarinet would be."  Similarly for F-Horn, etc. Curricula that assume that one way of thinking will be easier for students than the other fall into the "my students think just like I do" trap.