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So far from most of the sheet scores I've read, a2 is used mostly in wood and brass instrument staves, while unis. (and on rarer occasion, tutti) is in string instruments. It is even possible to see all three in a single score.

Is there any common practice on when they should be used? How to differentiate between them? I have seen some discussion but not quite sure if it's really the standard.

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1 Answer 1

The reason for the discrepancy is that there are generally far fewer winds and brass in an orchestra, and so the individual parts are usually numbered. Thus, you might see a part labeled with individual numbers (such as "1. 2." for different flute or oboe parts, for instance, or a marking such as "a 2" to indicate that they should play together.

Since for the most part such divisions do not happen in string parts (although there are some exceptions), it would not make sense to say "a 2" or "a 7" or whatever other number of strings are involved. Instead, they should play together, and for this purpose, either "unis." or "tutti" can be used. By and large, they are functionally equivalent, and can be used interchangeably. (This notation is also used for choral parts.)

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