I think I'll go crazy if I think about every possible way. Which example best adheres to standard notation practice?

  1. cross-staff with mid-staff beaming
  2. cross-staff with all upward beaming
  3. single staff with clef change
  4. single staff with ledger lines
  5. single staff with ottava
  • 2
    It's a matter of opinion. I prefer no.2, but none of them are 'incorrect'. – PiedPiper Mar 4 at 18:26
  • 4
    Even though the question asks for opinion, it seems answerable by someone experienced with music typography. I don't believe it should be closed. – user1079505 Mar 4 at 18:46
  • Obviously, there is a more correct type of notation, and there are some arguments. Maybe among music editors there are rules of "good form" in notation, or maybe a completely different way. It's like if you swap the words in a sentence, if you put them wrong, you will be understood, but you will sound like savage. – prstch Mar 4 at 19:02
  • 1
    I'd say #1 works better for me – Shevliaskovic Mar 4 at 19:04
  • 2
    This is not a matter of opinion. All of the elements depicted have documented best practices. – Todd Wilcox Mar 4 at 22:06

#4 is most correct. The LH stems should be up instead of down. If space between systems is tight, #5 is the second best alternative for the LH only. The only correct RH is #4.

The reasons why for every choice is readability. Brief clef and octave changes are much harder to read. Keeping the right hand on the upper staff and left hand on the lower staff is easier to read.

Note that for the passage depicted, sempre legato is redundant. If this is the beginning of a longer piece that will not have slurs and pedal marks throughout, then the sempre legato makes more sense.

Definitely buy Elaine Gould’s book Behind Bars which has explanations of all of these options and so much more. It is the authoritative reference on standard notation.

  • 1
    Sempre Legato is required for the left hand, as it is not otherwise obvious whether the LH should be legato or detached. – Aaron Mar 4 at 23:33
  • The clef/octave changes are borderline, Gould advises against them, but where does Gould state that the hands need to be on separate staves? As far as I can tell from the book she merely states that's the ""most usual" layout (p.304). – PiedPiper Mar 4 at 23:34
  • @Aaron with the pedal mark there it’s mox/nix – Todd Wilcox Mar 5 at 1:20
  • Not at all. Pedal sounds entirely different when notes are played non legato versus legato. – Aaron Mar 5 at 1:47
  • 2
    @Dekkadeci you should see how many ledger lines show up in violin or clarinet scores! Sometimes a bunch of ledger lines is still easier to read than tossing in multiple clef changes. This is partly because, once a run or phrase starts, it's easy to "read" the local interval rather than think all the way"back" to what the note & octave is. – Carl Witthoft Mar 5 at 18:11

None of these examples are incorrect, an experienced pianist should be able to read all of them, but some of them could be improved:

    1. a downward stem on the first low F# would be better. The sixteenth rest should probably be nearer the lower stave.
    1. the beams on the sixteenth notes (particularly the second quarter) could be a bit more slanted
    1. the LH stems should all point up
  • Why did you answer a question that you voted to close? – Todd Wilcox Mar 6 at 0:11
  • I had a feeling that other reviewers might not agree with me, so I covered both bases (sorry, I should have retracted the close vote). Other answers and comments support the thesis that it's opinion-based (there are proponents for every version except #5 and even if one version might be best-practice, it's not so clear cut), but it seems that people want to discuss it anyway. – PiedPiper Mar 6 at 10:57

I like the right hand of #4 and the left hand of #3. They eliminate the right hand cross staves of #1 and #2 and also the changes of clefs and 8va and 8vb markings. The left hand is almost the same in 3&4 so it’s a toss up but I think stems up is a little cleaner.

  • 1
    I have a tough time reading #4's highest notes - the C# above Middle C being notated with 4 ledger lines in the bass clef is close to unreadable, at least to me, and I think it's such a terrible idea that I prefer #2. I'd much rather have cross-staff beaming or a clef change when it makes the right hand more readable. – Dekkadeci Mar 5 at 13:31
  • @Dekkadeci Multiple ledger lines are often used in piano music although not as typically above bass clef. In this case it is just one note and is clearly a 5th above the previous note. The reason I chose what I did is I think it is the cleanest looking and visually represents what the music sounds like. – John Belzaguy Mar 5 at 15:02

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