Speed Up Your Bass Clef Reading

Is bass clef slowing you down? It’s something of a mystery to me why bass clef should present a stumbling block to harpists who read treble clef perfectly well.

Perhaps we just put more effort into learning (and teaching!) treble clef and figure that bass clef will get better over time. Or maybe we are so eager to play more music that we don’t spend quite enough time on all the fundamentals that would make learning music easier.

But it’s not too late. You can improve your bass clef reading. And it’s not too hard, either.

But you need to do a little practice on it every day.

In this post, I will give you five ways you can start improving your bass clef reading today. (Of course this will work for any clef you need to learn or just want to read better.)

  1. Let your right hand help. Play a bass clef line with your left hand and have your right hand play along one octave higher. Often our right hand “reads” music better than our left hand, and by playing that bass clef line with both hands, our right hand will help our left hand. It will feel a little odd, but it really works.
  2. Learn it first. When you learn a new piece or when you practice hands separately, learn the bass clef line (usually the left hand) first, when your energy is fresh. Not only will you bring your sharpest , freshest skills to the task, but you will avoid any possibility of skimping on your left hand or bass clef work. Plus you will accustom your ears to hearing the bass clef line, which will help you learn your music faster.
  3. Try playing a treble clef line as if it were in bass clef. Sometimes the bass clef lines in our music just don’t provide enough note reading challenge. So if you want to increase your bass clef reading skill, try reading one of those busy melodic lines in treble clef as if it were in bass clef. You can even actually transpose the line so it sounds the same by adjusting your pedals or levers to the new key. For instance, a C in treble clef will be an E in bass clef, and if the treble clef line is in C Major, the bass clef line would be transposed to E or E flat Major.
  4. Sharpen your bass clef skills while you work on your left hand chords. Your chord playing will actually improve when your note reading is better. Start with a chord exercise or a chord passage in one of your pieces. First say the bottom note of each chord, then all the top notes, then all the middle notes to help you check the notes in the chords, focus on the evenness of your fingers and practice your reading. It’s a triple bonus!
  5. Play and say. This technique is one of the most effective ways to improve your note reading, but it requires some persistence. Take any bass clef passage and say the names of the notes while you play them, keeping a steady tempo. It’s not easy, but it is guaranteed to produce results. (I have a posted a YouTube video that shows you this process in more detail.)

There is one thing you should NOT do if you want to improve your bass clef reading: don’t think about bass clef as a transposed treble clef, i.e. treble clef but up three notes. Your reading goal is fluency not just identifying the notes, and you won’t speed up your reading if you’re trying to “translate” from treble clef all the time. It’s just like learning a foreign language; the best method is immersion.


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