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While reading the score of Misty (Burke, Garner, arranged by Roed), I encountered the following chord notation (it's on the bass clef in bar 32, and the signature is E-flat major):

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What does the duplicate F-sharp mean?

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3 Answers 3

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The double notes indicate that the note serves two purposes in the piece. It's not uncommon as you progress through keyboard literature to find a single hand doing two independent things at the same time, with different rhythms, and that's what's happening here: a slow-moving bass line and an arpeggiated accompaniment. Let's call them parts, though you'll also hear them called voices (as if different people sang the different parts, though they're not in this case!) or lines (particularly if both parts form melodies). Usually the independent parts involve different pitches, and are simply notated on the same staff, with one part as stems down and the other part as stems up. Occasionally the parts may cross or land on the same note, in which case the notator just shrugs and writes the logical but somewhat twisted result.

The correct way to play this particular case is to use the longer rhythmic value (hold down the note a half note's duration with your finger). If the upper part is a melody the note could be shaped accordingly in terms of loudness and rubato, but if it's a simple accompaniment figure in the left hand I don't think that's necessary.

There are other ways you could have been notated this, but they would mean slightly different things.

  • First, you could omit the half note, but then you lose the duration of that note. Holding it down creates a subtly different effect that the composer evidently wants.
  • You could omit the half note and add a damper pedal marking to hold the note, but you get a very different result that way vs. just holding the note down with your finger.
  • Or you could simply rely on common pedal practise for contemporary pop tunes, make no explicit pedal markings, and omit the half note, but that's sloppy writing.
  • You could indicate an eighth rest for the upper part, but then someone would probably write a Stack Exchange question about what that meant. :-) Also, if the upper part were a melody, you would miss the point that this note shold be interpreted as part of the melody. Finally, if there is a sequence of figures like this, the eighth rest might stand out on the printed page like a little bit of musical acne. (Yes, some notators are obsessive-compulsive enough to care – it kind of comes with the profession. :-) )
  • You could simply write nothing for the upper part on that beat, but it leaves it ambiguous where the next note falls. On beat 1 1/2? On beat 2? In this case you could probably guess correctly, but it's better to be explicit.

To see this multiple-parts-on-one staff madness taken to extremes, check out Bach fugues. Choral pieces reduced for piano performance or hymnals frequently notate this way as well.

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It means you have two voices here. The lower voice plays a half-note F# and the upper voice plays the arpeggio. Basically you would play it by keeping the F# down and playing the upper voice as usually. If you use pedal, you don't need to keep the key physically down. To get the illusion of two voices in this case, you can accentuate the first note a bit.

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when you say two voices do you mean 2 different types of instruments or something? So if I'm playing this as a solo piano only piece, I'd just play the half note? –  Stephen Hazel Jan 3 '13 at 18:12
4  
No, I mean there are two lines in the music. Usually when you play the piano you play at least two lines (voices): melody and bass. In this case you have two (short) lines written on the same staff to be played on one hand (and probably still at least one more voice for the right hand). –  nonpop Jan 3 '13 at 18:17
    
ok, so this means that the double note is there to appease the composer, then? As far as actually playing this, there's only one dang key involved and it can't be played twice at the same time :) So you hit F#4, hold it for a half note (or pedal it) and use whatever velocity you think will make the arpeggio and held note "work", eh? –  Stephen Hazel Jan 3 '13 at 21:53
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Well, as you said, you hold the F# down (if you don't use the pedal). If there were no half note F#, only the 1/8th note, then you'd let F# go as soon as you press E, even when not using the pedal. So there is a difference for the performer, too. But yeah, whatever you do, the most important part is definitely to make it work musically! –  nonpop Jan 3 '13 at 23:49
    
ok thanks - I'm learning ClaireDeLune and there are a couple of these "double duration same note"s in there, too. –  Stephen Hazel Jan 4 '13 at 3:01

The execution is instrument-dependent, the idea is two separate voices. You got the explanation for piano. If you take a cello and, uh, turn down the G string half a note or transpose the music up half a note, then you will indeed be playing the first note on two strings simultaneously.

Now in this case, the obvious idea is to play the lower voice on the lower string but then you'll not be able to finish the phrase. So one plays the lower voice on the higher G-string and shifts positions on the C string like anything while clinging on to the empty G-string as if...

Wait, are we still talking about a cello here?

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