Bass clef tattoo meaning and symbolism

Bass clef tattoos are extremely popular in music-related body art. It is certainly the most commonly seen clef tattoo design, with an enormous number of variations. This list includes but is not limited to: bass clef paired with treble clef; bass and guitar fretboard patterns; the Solfège scale used by musicians; different notes; etc.

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The bass clef (or F-clef) is one of the most common symbols in music, and is used to notate lower pitches. The symbol can be rotated so it’s facing either up or down. It was also sometimes known as the ‘greater’ or ‘prime’ clef during the Renaissance.

In modern music, the bass clef is commonly used to notate the lowest of the non-contrabass pitched instruments – such as a cello or double bass. In this context, it’s referred to as a ‘bass clef’. However, its use can vary – sometimes even within one piece of music – depending on the situation.


The bass clef is one of several symbols used to notate music in staff notation, and is made up of two lines (or beams) intersecting each other at roughly a right-angle. It was originally derived from an earlier symbol called the ‘chiavi naturali’ (Italian for ‘natural keys’) and was first used to notate music by Renaissance composer, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.


The symbol as we know it today is believed to have originated from the sixteenth century french musician, Adrian Le Roy. He tweaked another clef – the ‘chiavi apposte’ (Italian for ‘added keys’) which indicated bass notes which were found on either side of the stave, but not at the foot of it.


Originally, there was no standardised way in which musicians read these clefs. During the eighteenth century it became common practice to read them from the middle lines of each staff. This is why today bass clef tattoos are typically depicted with the two dots at the top of the staff.


The bass clef is formed by two dots, one placed on each line of the staff. The position of these dots can vary depending on what type of clef it is – which type of clef determines where exactly the note names are drawn. So, if you’re thinking about getting a tattoo depicting both treble and bass clefs together (or any other pair), make sure to take into account that they may not line up perfectly with each other!


A ‘standard’ bass clef tattoo has its dots placed at roughly 4 o’clock (ten past) and 8 o’clock (two past). This works for around 90% of all regular 4/4 time signatures, but not all of them.


If you need a specific clef to keep the tattoo in line with other music tattoos, it’s best if you go straight up from the bottom line of your staff. For example: when used to notate bass guitar tab (in either 4/4 time or 3/4) you want it placed at 12 o’clock (straight up). A 6 o’clock position might work for some slower 4/4 songs though.

Other than that, there are very few limitations on where on your body these tattoos can be put! Check out our list of recommended places for placement below…and get creative with it! The more original your interpretation of the symbol is, the better! Some great bass clef tattoo ideas that we’ve seen over the years include: