[ 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 Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for clef

British Dictionary definitions for clef


/ (klɛf) /


one of several symbols placed on the left-hand side beginning of each stave indicating the pitch of the music written after itSee also alto clef, bass clef, C clef, soprano clef, tenor clef, treble clef

Word Origin for clef

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

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