Currently working on this composition which is in 12/8 time. I want the rhythm in the left hand to be like this:

enter image description here

But the notation looks difficult to read. Also tried this:

enter image description here

But the C octave chord is a bit too short (I want it to be sustained the length of 10 eighth-notes). How should I best notate this without making the notation look messy?

  • 1
    Welcome to Music.SE! Great first question.
    – Richard
    Oct 31, 2020 at 3:48

5 Answers 5


Yes, this is tricky. It may depend on what you have in the remaining voices/hands/parts, but one possible solution is to use stem direction to your advantage:

enter image description here

By using stem-down notes for the held Cs and stem-up notes for the moving line, it minimizes the confusion on the large beat 3 (where earlier the E looked as if it came after the dotted-quarter Cs).

There are a few weaknesses here:

  • The dots on beat 3, which can certainly be moved closer to the Cs as desired.
  • The hidden dotted-quarter rest on beat 1 looks a bit swallowed up here. But I'm assuming that a moving line in another voice will clarify where this first E is placed. If not, I'd recommend making that rest visible.
  • Lastly, these stem directions may not make any sense with your composition; if the held Cs are really viewed as an "upper voice" in this staff, then this may not be an ideal solution.

A scorched-earth solution may be to just briefly include a third staff (think of the famous Rachmaninoff C-sharp prelude here), but that should probably be your last resort.

Alternatively, you could write one of the voices with smaller notes.

I'd be curious to hear what recommendations others have. My sense is that this may just be one of those examples that will always look a little wonky, but I'd love to be proven wrong!

  • @PiedPiper Yes, I tried to address that in my discussion on the weaknesses of this approach.
    – Richard
    Nov 6, 2020 at 19:26
  • @PiedPiper No worries, I get a bit long-winded sometimes ;-)
    – Richard
    Nov 6, 2020 at 19:55

@Richard makes some very good points and suggestions but because of the voices overlapping in note length AND register it’s going to be messy no matter what. These two may not be ideal but they are possible solutions:

enter image description here

On the first the slurs suggest holding the note till beat 10.

The second using the sustain pedal wont work if you do not want the E on beat 5 to ring out till beat 10.

Like Richard I’m curious to see what other solutions are offered.

  • Strongly favour this version. The content isn't really that involved, no point writting it in a cluttered style. If afraid that the performer might not perform the long-ringing Cs right, better to just write a clarifying remark. Nov 2, 2020 at 22:20

Here are my preferred options, one a variation on Richard's solution.

Two notation options

I think the first option is cleanest, though could give pause at first sight.

The second option is explicit, but I think a bit visually complex. The variation on Richard's solution I propose is keeping the "smaller" tied notes contained within the larger ties -- i.e., not crossing the chord stems. I also lengthened the stems a bit to help clarify visually.

I'm largely agnostic on the rest placement, though I tend to prefer the initial dotted-quarter rest be hidden, and a quarter rest at the end rather than two eighth rests. The "inner" eighth rest is the only one that is absolutely necessary, and I've played with its vertical placement a bit.

  • FWIW: this was made with MuseScore 3.
    – Aaron
    Oct 31, 2020 at 4:26
  • 1
    I think option 1 looks the cleanest of all so far. Crossing the imaginary bar lines on the syncopations improves the look drastically. I personally would prefer to see the dotted quarter rest on beat 1 for clarity. Nice work. Oct 31, 2020 at 4:33
  • 1
    @JohnBelzaguy That initial dotted-quarter rest is problematic. Above, below, between...? Maybe placing it immediately adjacent to the initial chord, opposite the stem?
    – Aaron
    Oct 31, 2020 at 4:36
  • 1
    I’d personally go with above since it’s part of the “up” stems. You’re right though, seems like there’s no good place to put it! Oct 31, 2020 at 4:37

This is somewhat cleaner and makes it clear where the E begins: enter image description here

  • This looks very good. The only issue is the duration of the dotted half note C on the D.B. goes all the way to the end of the bar instead of ending on beat 10. Nov 2, 2020 at 21:40
  • @JohnBelzaguy Since that C is re-struck on beat 11 the first C ends with beat 10.
    – PiedPiper
    Nov 2, 2020 at 22:07
  • I thought of that, it worked out well this time around! Nov 2, 2020 at 22:21

Change to 3 staves

For the densest parts, you can add staves, e.g.

enter image description here

  • 3
    If you wrote out the original like this, it would be a good answer.
    – Tim
    Oct 31, 2020 at 13:40
  • This is a confusing answer. The example you give is written on three staves because it's for organ. The lowest stave is played by the feet, and the two upper staves are played by the hands. Putting a piano part on three staves to express a complicated rhythm is a completely different idea. Nov 2, 2020 at 23:30

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