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I'm attempting to do some piano composition where (unfortunately) it's not my native instrument. What is the accepted way to handle the notation of multiple voices in a situation like what I've included an excerpt of?

Excerpt

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I should note that my preference would be what I saw in Chopin's Prelude No 15 in D-flat major where the minims were beamed with the quavers –  lochok Aug 7 at 1:28

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

What you have here is mostly fine but I would do a couple modifications. Namely, I would put the rests in the first and second measures below the 1/2 notes. This way they look more like being rests in the 1/8-note-voice. If you don't like this then at least put the rests in the second measure either above or below the 1/2 notes because now it looks like the measure has a length of ten 1/8-notes.

If you would write it with the 1/2 notes beamed with the 1/8 notes as in Chopin's 28/15 then I would interpret the passage a little differently. As it is now, I would play it as if there is a melody/harmony (1/2 notes) and then an accompaniment playing (rest-pah-pah-pah, rest-pah-pah-pah, ...). If you would put beams on the 1/2 notes (which is less standard by the way), I would try to make the accompaniment sound as if it has no rests. That would make the melody sound more like (a-c-c-c a-c-c-c e-c-c-c ...) instead of (a a e ...).

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If everything has to be in the same staff (i.e. to be played by one hand) the excerpt you show in your question is fine for Keyboard.

If you want to make clear that the half-notes that come together are different voices you can put the stems up for the top ones and down for the bottom ones. But this is not necessary unless you are writing poliphonic-style music (i.e. a fugue), which doesn't seem to be the case.

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You don't say what your native instrument is, but if it is flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, horn or trombone, take a look at an orchestral score of a piece you have played, and compare for instance the first and second flute parts with the one flute staff in the score.

The two parts are compressed into one line. Whenever the two flutes are playing different lines, the first flute notes have the stems going up and the second flute notes have the stems going down. Rests for each line will be vertically placed to be near the notes for the line.

You can see this in the third measure of the example. In the first and second measures the rests have been placed where they fit. For piano music, it's not important which voice is "first" and which is "second" so something that would be ambiguous for two players (that is, who plays what?) is not ambiguous when played by one hand, but it must be possible to trace the line of one voice and the line of the other voice so that the pianist can play one voice louder and the other one softer if he wants.

The two half-notes are on the same stem because they represent one voice (a voice that can play two notes at once). If they represented two voices they would be on separate stems, and we would be seeing three voices on the line. Then if in the first measure the composer wanted the first voice to play A then E, and the second voice to play E then A, instead of the first voice playing A A and the second playing E E, then the first chord would be A-stem-up and E-stem-down, and the second would be A-stem-down and E-stem-up. Making the listener hear the melody as A E instead of A A would be a challenge for the pianist, but doable.

For other examples, look at Bach fugues for harpsichord, particularly those with 4 or 5 voices.

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