I stumbled with harmonic unisons for the first time trying to play this arrangement


I found this question where some techniques to deal with harmonic unison are discussed, and it helped me with the first two unisons. But I don't know how to execute the 3rd one.

Should the D be attacked 3 times? Or because it isn't part of the melody, the lower staff D would better be skipped?

  • One way to do it would be to play it on a harpsichord or organ with more than one manual. – phoog Nov 27 '20 at 3:19

It should be attacked three times. The melody and chords are clearly two distinct voices. Actually, I can't think of a context in piano music where you wouldn't attack a harmonic unison on two different beats as notated (unless there was a tie written in, of course).

In contrast to some of the other answers, I don't consider this to be sloppy notation. If this is indeed what the arranger desires, then writing half notes in the left hand chords keeps the rhythmic pattern visually consistent, while this right hand notation conveys the cohesion of the melody.

In theory, you could write in quarter rests to resolve the "ambiguity" of having to play a note that is already ringing, but I consider this a solution to a problem that doesn't exist—there is no ambiguity to begin with. Moreover, if I saw a rest on LH beat 3 of measure 4 but not in the same place in measure 3, I might assume they are to be articulated differently.

The notation is fine, but is it sloppy writing? I don't think so. In piano music, overlapping or crossed voices are common enough that everyone has to learn to play them at some point. You will find many examples in Bach. And in the 21st century, there's no expectation that you are even playing both lines on the same physical keyboard: You could be using one patch for the left hand and another for the right.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that many pianists will reflexively play a passage like this with pedal, in which case you don't have to use your finger to hold down the long notes and playing them again presents no problem.

  • That's true, but it doesn't mean it's well written. – Tim Nov 26 '20 at 11:52
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    Do you mean it's poorly written or poorly notated? I think it's notated just fine; whether it's well written would depend on the context. – Max Nov 27 '20 at 2:42
  • Notated poorly. – Tim Nov 27 '20 at 8:13

It's unfortunate that piano music gets written like this. It does defy logic. 'I need to hold D for two beats, but play it again on the second of those beats'. It's not practicable. But writing it like that makes it look less complex - albeit unplayable!

The 1st D isn't a problem - it's the melody. The second is a problem, as it cannot be held for its 2 beats, as it gets played on the 3rd beat in the melody. So, yes, it gets played tree times - not exactly what the dots say, as the l.h. cannot hold it for 2 beats. But hold that A.

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    I suppose holding the sustain pedal between the second and third beats would almost count as holding those overlapped tones, as there wouldn't be any interruption of sound. But yeah, it's not really possible to play as written. – Scott Wallace Nov 25 '20 at 15:22
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    @ScottWallace - since all the notes belong to one chord, that's the best way to do it. – Tim Nov 25 '20 at 16:01
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    It's "possible" to play with two manuals, but I doubt that is the intention. – Michael Curtis Nov 25 '20 at 16:05
  • I can understand the intent of the arranger to try to make the voice leading clear. But it's just confusing in a keyboard arrangement. – Scott Wallace Nov 26 '20 at 11:35
  • I really don't see what the problem is. On the contrary, what would you consider good notation? Moving those melody notes to the bass cleff? Now THAT would be horrible notation. – Creynders Nov 27 '20 at 8:59

As explained previously, each of the three Ds is articulated separately. To do this most effectively, play the left-hand D quietly in comparison to the right-hand Ds. In this way, you will get the effect of a sustained D in the melody, and the left hand will be perceived as a minimal interruption.

Light use of the sustain pedal will also help with this. The combination of the pedal plus a soft left-hand articulation of the D will give an effect like and echo or a gentle reinforcement of the pitch. It won't intrude on the melody.

The underlying idea is to imagine two people/instruments are playing the passage. The "lead singer" would sing a half-note D followed by the eighth note D-E. The accompanist would handle the other D. Combining the two voices is standard for piano, and it's written this way to communicate the musical effect, prioritizing it over the literal execution. It would be performed quite differently if written, say, with quarter notes. Can be confusing at first, but critical to interpretation as one gains experience.


The "arrangement" is bad for a single keyboard. I image is simply wasn't played on a real instrument by the "arranger." Or, they may just play with the sustain pedal down most of the time without actually hold the rhythms indicated with their fingers.

On the flip side, unisons or voice crossings aren't "wrong" or unusual depending on the music. For example, Corelli's trio sonatas have many voice crossing between the two violin parts. But, notice that is about separate parts, separate players and instruments.

That kind of voice crossing can be done deliberately for keyboard, provided you use two keyboards or have a multi-manual instrument like a harpsichord or organ. I don't think this "arrangement" is that kind of music.

If you can download the score to edit it, just change the notes to make sense, change the red and green half notes to quarter notes and it will be "fixed." A quick and dirty alternative is to play the treble part one octave higher. That shouldn't be too high and it will separate the bass and treble enough to avoid the inevitable sound of repeated notes which will happen in the music as written. I don't think the sound of repeated notes is the intention, because of the half notes.

Using half notes communicates to me "long sustained, not repeated tones", but overlapping the two parts with unisons tells me the "arranger" is probably unaware of, indifferent to actual piano performance.

  • This is standard piano notation, not a misunderstanding by the arranger. – Aaron Nov 25 '20 at 18:07
  • Yes, sometimes piano music has such unisons, but in this particular case I disagree. See my last sentence for the reason. – Michael Curtis Nov 25 '20 at 18:10
  • @Aaron consider the source of the arrangement. With that in mind, the most likely explanation really is that the arranger doesn't really know what he's doing, to put it in rather less diplomatic terms than does this answer. – phoog Nov 27 '20 at 3:25
  • @Aaron - it may well be 'standard' - but surely we expect a higher standard? If it made sense, the question would not have been posed! – Tim Nov 27 '20 at 9:51
  • @phoog I agree that MuseScore user transcriptions are a poor source for well-notated scores, ,but the example in the OP wouldn't give me a moment's pause. I genuinely don't understand the objections to it. – Aaron Nov 27 '20 at 15:37

It is not very good writing. Clearly this piece is written for piano and violin and for some reason the author doubled the violin and piano RH part in many places. Some arrangers go for this unison sound but instead they should have realized a true accompaniment. At bar 30 or so where this example occurs, it appears the piano has the melody and unless the author wanted the sound of those repeated notes, they should have rearranged the voicing in the LH. My arranging teacher told me to never waste a finger. If you are playing a note with one hand, don't double it, play something else.

If you are a slave to the notation, use dynamics and play the repeated LH notes softer and try to bring out the melody with accents and dynamic phrasing. Sing that phrase with dynamics and play it like you are singing it, legato, connected and in one breath. Make sure the dynamic is going somewhere. My instinct would be a decrescendo and keep the LH repeated notes soft. This is a problem with computerized playback. We become deaf to these types of flaws.

I personally would not play chord clusters that low in the LH. That may well be the sound the composer wanted but to me it is poor arranging. I blame electronic keyboards and cheap speakers. The arranger probably doesn't hear how muddy it sounds on a real piano.

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