I am learning how to write in 12/8 time and worked out something on the piano but not sure if it is right. The chords are quite low so the bass line feels a bit lost underneath the way I have written it. Here is the score so far (melody still to come)

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Is there a better way to write this?


The bass line is a separate voice. It will look more clear if you draw its note stems down. In particular it will make different rhythms in the two voices more explicit and easier to read.

two voice score example

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    perfect, that does look better. Thank you! May I ask what software you used for that? It is so clean and tidy :) – armani Aug 4 at 17:28
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    Musescore. It's free, works on Linux, Windows and Mac, and it's reasonably easy to use. – user1079505 Aug 4 at 21:07
  • You could put a Bass clef on first staff instead of Treble, It look like that'd be better – RishiNandha Vanchi Aug 5 at 7:24
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    @RishiNandha_M: Given that the melody is still to be supplied (replacing the rest), I don't understand the proposal. – guidot Aug 5 at 8:00
  • Oh sorry, I missed the part where OP said melody is yet to be supplied – RishiNandha Vanchi Aug 6 at 9:23

Take a look at Debussy's Preludes Book II. There are many passages in the low range and it uses three clefs where often the third clef is an additional bass clef.

I'm sure there are published guidelines about extreme low bass and ledger lines, but my impression from reading scores is that if the lowest note in a bass staff goes below an octave of bottom line G use an 8va.

Examples from the preludes...

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  • Is that... is that for one person to play?? – AakashM Aug 5 at 13:33
  • Yes. Believe it or not! – Michael Curtis Aug 5 at 14:25
  • @AakashM There's some well known pieces by Lizst and Rachmaninoff that go into 4 staves, 2 per hand. (Generally it's one bass and one treble for each hand.) This example might in fact benefit from that, as the up-stem and down-stem chords on the lowest clef are essentially 2 separate parts (both for the left hand) – Darrel Hoffman Aug 5 at 17:23
  • For a fairly simple line like the one OP showed, personally I find @user1079505's approach a lot more readable, to be honest, but this option is definitely very interesting. – user70370 Aug 6 at 13:20

@user1079505's answer is spot on. In addition you also have the tool of 8va/8vb to shift notes down an octave. Especially if you continue in this register over a longer stretch, 8va can create an easier to read staff notation.

In your case you would write the chords in the treble clef and add an 8va or 8vb below it. The bass line can either remain as is ("loco") or also be transposed.

Which option you choose is only determined by what is more convenent to read and understand.

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  • I highly do not recommend using 8vb (or lowering 8va) on treble clef notes. Just use ledger lines or switch to bass clef at this point. (Alternately, switch to alto or tenor clef for instruments that commonly use them.) – Dekkadeci Aug 5 at 11:10
  • I see your point Dekkadeci. I also think that 8vb in treble is not very legible. I would always decide with the context in mind, which trade-off to make: familiar chord structures, more space and "usual" hand-distribution in treble or less noise in the staff. I can, however, not think of many examples of 8vb in treble ;) – morgler Aug 5 at 11:16
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    @Dekkadeci According to the OP, this piece is intended for piano, so do not use alto or tenor clefs in this case. I would consider switching the upper clef to base, and using an 8vb on the lower one, to separate the parts better. (Assuming there isn't a treble part coming in later - if so, the 3-staff solution in Michael Curtis' answer would be the easiest. – Darrel Hoffman Aug 5 at 17:26

I notice that you have mentioned the piano, but it would be really hard to play the bass line and the chords simultaneously with the left hand.

At first glance it looks to me like music for an organ: you've left the right hand (treble clef) blank for the moment (because you haven't written the melody line yet), the left hand will play the chords, and the feet will play the bass line. (Note that in organ music the pedals sound an octave lower then written.) If this is the case you should write it like something like this:

Three stave organ system

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