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2. Treble & Bass Clef, Pitch and Transposition

Grade Two Music Theory Lesson 2: Treble Clef & Bass Clef, Pitch and Transposition

Suitable for:  ABRSM Grade 2   Trinity Grade 2   GCSE   AP Music Theory Beginners 


What's New in Clefs at Music Theory Grade Two

Hopefully you don't have too much difficulty working out where the notes are in treble and bass clef, but if you need to do some revision, check the Grade One lesson on treble and bass clefs.

In ABRSM Grade Two Music Theory you need to be able to rewrite a melody in a different clef - from treble to bass or from bass to treble, without changing the pitch of the music.  

In Trinity Grade Two Music Theory you need to be able to rewrite a melody in the same clef, but transposing (moving) the tune up or down by one octave.


What is pitch? The pitch of a note means how high or low it is. We have many notes called "C", for example.

Listen to these three Cs - they are all at different registers, or pitches.



On the other hand, these two Cs are at the same pitch although they are written in different clefs:



In the same way, the notes in each of these melodies are also at the same pitch although they are in a different clef:


Rewriting in a New Clef (ABRSM Only)

Let's look at the kind of questions you might get in the ABRSM Grade Two Music Theory Exam.

The question could ask you to rewrite single notes with a new clef, or to rewrite a whole melody.

Here's a question asking you to rewrite the whole melody:


Rewrite this melody in the treble clef, keeping the pitch the same. The first two notes are given.

Rewrite this melody at the same pitch - grade two music theory


You need to write the correct notes of course, but also make sure your handwritten music is neat!

Copy each note into its new position right underneath the original melody - that way you'll make sure your notes are spaced correctly, and it's also easier to check that you haven't missed a note out by mistake! 

Another useful tip is to write the last note first. Work this note out very carefully, and write it on your blank stave. If you make a small mistake in the middle of the melody, you will notice it more easily when you get to the end if things don't match up. 

So, first, we'll put the last note in. It's the G below middle C:
Put the last note in first - music theory grade two

Now, start from the beginning. You don't need to spend time working out every note - just look at the general pattern. For example, for each note just say to yourself "next line up" or "2 spaces down" and so on.

When you have groups of quavers (eighth notes) or semiquavers (sixteenth notes), draw all the note heads in each group first. Next draw the first and last stems in each group, and finally add the beams and any other stems - and use a ruler!

Pay attention to the direction of the stems - notes below the middle line have stems pointing upwards, and notes above the middle line should have stems pointing downwards.

Here's the finished answer:

The finished answer - transposing into a new clef music theory


Transposing at the Octave (Trinity Only)

We can make a melody sound mostly the same, but higher or lower, if we transpose it by one octave.

Here's the same melody from above:

low g melody

The melody begins on the note G - but which G? Is it a high or low register G? The easiest way to explain exactly which G, is to say whether it is above or below middle C, and by how much. 

This G is the first G below middle C

G and middle C

We can change it to the first G above middle C, and write it on the 2nd line of the stave. It's still the same basic note, but now it is an octave higher in pitch.

G and high G


Using this as the starting point, we can copy over all the notes of the melody, so that the whole thing is one octave higher:

melody transposed up one octave

Notice that we have to change the stem direction on some of the notes.

Being able to transpose by an octave is a useful skill. Let's say you have a song written for a very high-pitched voice and want to make it singable for someone with a lower voice - you could transpose it one octave down and the problem is solved!

In the Trinity exam, you may be asked to transpose a tune so that a different pitched voice can sing it. 

Voices are divided into four main groups - two for women, and two for men.

High-pitched women's voices are called soprano, and low-pitched women's voices are called alto.

High-pitched men's voices are called tenor, and low-pitched men's voices are called bass



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