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[klef] /klɛf/
noun, Music.
a symbol placed upon a staff to indicate the name and pitch of the notes corresponding to its lines and spaces.
Origin of clef
1570-80; < Middle French < Latin clāvis key Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for clef
Historical Examples
  • A clef identifies and originally was used with a single line, and identifies others only by their relationship to this.

    How to Write Music Clement A. Harris
  • This was what has since become the fourth line, the clef line, of the bass stave.

    How to Write Music Clement A. Harris
  • They could only be written (as they are yet) in one clef—namely, the F clef.

    Shakespeare and Music Edward W. Naylor
  • After a change of clef in the middle of a score this is, of course, not necessary.

    How to Write Music Clement A. Harris
  • She was so tall the girls always considered her in that clef.

  • clef, klef, n. a musical character placed on the staff by which the absolute pitch of the notes is fixed.

  • The papers insist it's a livre--clef; and I am certain the thing is selling on that account!

    The Streets of Ascalon Robert W. Chambers
  • In olden days any clef line might be taken with any number of lines above and below.

    How to Write Music Clement A. Harris
  • Le Tarot Divinatoire: clef du tirage des cartes et des sorts.

  • He also observes that this oratorio is the first work in which the proper sharps and flats are generally placed at the clef.

    The Standard Oratorios George P. Upton
British Dictionary definitions for clef


one of several symbols placed on the left-hand side beginning of each stave indicating the pitch of the music written after it See also alto clef, bass clef, C clef, soprano clef, tenor clef, treble clef
Word Origin
C16: from French: key, clef, from Latin clāvis; related to Latin claudere to close
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for clef

1570s in a musical sense, "character on a staff to indicate its name and pitch," from Middle French clef (12c.) "key, musical clef, trigger," from a figurative or transferred use of classical Latin clavis, which had only the literally sense "key" (see slot (n.2)). In the Middle Ages, the Latin word was used in the Guidonian system for "the lowest note of a scale," which is its basis (see keynote). The most common is the treble, violin, or G-clef, which crosses on the second line of the staff, denoting that as the G above middle C on the piano.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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