So I'm just learning this Coldplay piece and it has notes which are not joined but on the same stave. I'm wondering what the purpose of this is or rather what information it's trying to convey? Perhaps the lower notes should be played when the lower lyrics are to be sung, i.e. on the second repeat?

Later on in the sheets it's made slightly more obvious as some of the notes that are separated are slightly smaller.

I'd like to know for sure as I'm turning my sheet music into MIDI files so that I can use Synthesia to practice them.

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  • Note that since several of the pairs of notes have different durations, it would make no sense to use the same stem. (I assume by "separated" and "not joined" you mean that instead of sharing one stem, each notehead has its own stem.) – Kyle Strand May 15 '15 at 17:53
  • Thanks @KyleStrand, yes that is what I meant. You're right, it makes no sense, but I didn't see that until my question had an answer. ;-) – deed02392 May 16 '15 at 10:39

Smaller notes are a different issue, and could be relevant to a second line of lyrics, but you will typically see them only sporadically appear within the top voice.

Anyway, what you're asking about is referred to as multiple voices on a staff. Notes in harmony will generally only be grouped together with a stem if the rhythm is the same, and all of the notes are "on the same part".

There are three parts/voices in this excerpt. The bass is on the bass cleff staff, the melody is the top part of the treble clef staff, and the part in the middle is a harmony part. All parts should be played with each line of lyrics, and the top line should be sung.

Generally a staff will contain up to two voices, since they can easily be distinguished from one another with the use of up stems or down stems. But this is certainly not a hard limit; it is quite common to see more than 2 voices in a staff when reading orchestral scores. In ambiguous cases, the music will contain short instructions like "1.", "a 2" to designate which parts should be playing where.

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    Right, so if I understand correctly, I should be playing both voices of the cleff staff with my right hand? – deed02392 Apr 26 '13 at 21:17
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    @deed02392 Yes. – ecline6 Apr 26 '13 at 21:38

When notes do share the same stem like this, it is because the editor is showing the two notes to be different "voices". In this particular case, they want to distinguish the melody, which is the top part, from the bottom notes that are filling out the harmony.

Separating the voices is extremely common whenever there is a sung melody that is also being played by the piano. Choral music where all four parts are written on the same staff will often be separated the same way so that the singers can tell which part is theirs.

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    ecline6 - did you mean 'share the same stave/staff' rather than 'share the same stem' ? – Tim Apr 27 '13 at 5:46
  • @Tim Nope. Stem is what I meant. The question is about notes that have different stems in the same staff. – ecline6 Apr 27 '13 at 12:52
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    Sorry, I'm confused ! In the sample, no notes are sharing the same stem. Same stave, yes.You're spot on with SATB, S- treble clef, stems up, A- treble clef, stems down,etc. I'm hoping a stem is the same as a tail on a crotchet,etc.If they're sharing the same tail, it's difficult to tell whether they're alto or soprano for example. – Tim Apr 27 '13 at 17:49

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