I’m studying Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 and have come across two lines which look like they are intended to save paper in just showing the musical lines that are playing?

page 2 symphony score

They are everywhere, the next page too.

page 3 symphony score

What’s the proper name for these? And are they for what I had thought initially? To prevent musical instruments not playing just displaying empty staff lines with rests? If you look at the example above it’s just the Viola and Cello.

2 Answers 2


I have found an answer in the book "Behind Bars" by Elaine Gould. She writes (p.521):

A pair of thick diagonal lines, known as system dividers or separation marks, divides off two or more systems of orchestral (or ensemble) music on a page. [...] Where systems can be well separated, the dividers may be placed on the left hand side of the page only; where systems are very close together, it is visually helpful to add them on both sides of the page.

  • 1
    You can tell by looking at the measure numbers at the top-left of each staff system, 7 and 13 in the first example, 19 and 23 in the second. This should tell you that these staves are not being played at the time, but in sequence, top first and then bottom. Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 15:42

These double oblique lines on the left side of the page are "system dividers" or "system separators". They show where a new line of music is beginning.

They are often used in orchestral score where there are lots of different instruments in many staves. The system dividers stand out so that it easier to find the next line of music.

The lines themselves aren't saving paper though. The paper saving is done by "Frenching" the score; omitting entire staves on lines when they only have rests.

  • 1
    Many staves is not exactly the problem, because then you would have a regular layout with one or two systems per page. You need the lines most, when there are unexpected many systems on one page, due to so many instruments being omitted (like 2nd example, where just two viola and cellos remain from a whole orchestra.)
    – guidot
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 13:15
  • @guidot They're also very helpful in choral music, especially when there are more than 4 staves. (I'm thinking unkindly of a certain score that really liked splitting and rejoining divisi parts.) Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 1:33
  • @guidot - Many staves is part of the problem. In a score with only a few staves throughout, system dividers become unnecessary. Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 1:38

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