I've got a nice chord that's composed of three voices: octaved A half notes, a quarter note C, and an eighth note F that's tied to more F's behind the chord. Problem is that with three voices, there's going to be overlap in most cases unless I make choices that could be considered really awkward. Are any of these officially supported/restricted, and which do you think is neatest/clearest?

Version 1; just letting it all overlap. It should still be clear what note has what notation because the half notes have hollow heads.


Version 2; the F moved slightly back but it overlaps the stem. This has my preference but it may not be considered neat enough.


Version 3; the F moved all the way back. No overlaps, but it may not be clear that the A's, C and F are all hit at the same time.


Version 4; the F in front of the chord (should be slightly more clear that it is hit at the same time) but the beam overlaps the stem)


Version 5; which is v4 but with the beam raised so there's no overlap. Feels like a lot of wasted space.


This might seem like a very minor thing but I like to get these things right.

For reference, here is the context, my original notation:

Full context - original

And here with Michael Curtis's notation:

Full context

  • That's four voices. – phoog Mar 10 at 11:41
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    @phoog Four? I count three voices, four notes. – KeizerHarm Mar 10 at 11:43
  • Do you know many people who can sing two notes at once? – phoog Mar 10 at 11:57
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    @phoog This is sheet music for the piano. Afaik a voice in notation is just a grouping of notes with the same stem direction and some musical coherence, not necessarily something that a vocalist could reproduce on their own. – KeizerHarm Mar 10 at 13:02
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    Is this a piano reduction of a score? Is the left hand doing something else? Why do you want three different voices on one staff? – dissemin8or Mar 10 at 16:46

If the stem direction is essential, then the "best" solution is probably the one below -- offsetting voices 2 and 3 to the right. This can be quite visually confusing, however, so horizontal spacing is critical.

Chord with voices 2 and 3 offset right

This arrangement has the advantage of permitting the beat 1 eighth rests with the simultaneous quarter note. My preference is to include a beam over the rest, as shown in the below example.

Same as above with eighth rest on beat 1

Another possibility, if stem direction can be sacrificed, is to double-stem the upper A so that it can connect via a downward stem to the lower A. Combined with making the middle-C voice up-stemmed, the notes can be nested. However, a compromise is required of the middle C eighth notes on beat 2. They must either 1) be unbeamed (as shown below), 2) have the beam cross the F voice's stem (also below), or 3) be a different direction that the quarter-note C.

Chord re-stemmed and voices 2 and 3 offset right

Chord with beam crossing stem in beat 2

Note that to make the beam-crossing as readable as possible, the beam height of the lower pair is raised to be closer to the upper beam.

All of the above were created using MuseScore 3.

My primary point of reference for these is the Henle Urtext edition Bach's Prelude and Fugue in B♭ minor, WTC Book 1, BWV 867.

Fugue m15 right hand
BWV 867 Fugue m15 right hand

Prelude m4 right hand
BWV 867 Prelude m4 right hand

BWV 867 Fugue m63-64 right hand
BWV 867 Fugue m63-64 right hand

  • Thank you for your answer, and also for the references of three-voiced piano music which I could not easily find. Considering the full context (last picture in my post), I am now inclined to move every instance of voice 2 and 3 to be behind voice 1, including where it is not necessary for space (e.g. ms. 247 beat 1), for consistency. – KeizerHarm Mar 10 at 20:13
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    @KeizerHarm After seeing the "Michael Curtis-ized" sample, I agree. Another benefit is that you'll be able to move the eighth rests to be directly above the quarter notes. Fugues are a great place to find complex beaming. Bach, for example, can be found on IMSLP. – Aaron Mar 10 at 20:19
  • @KeizerHarm I've added an image with the proposed rest placement. – Aaron Mar 10 at 20:31
  • Which I will be implementing. I thank you kindly for your help :) – KeizerHarm Mar 10 at 20:34

In music notation terms it's three voices. A 'voice' can contain more than one note. I think anyone working in an environment where they could DO anything about this notation issue will understand this naming method.

Version 1 is less horrible than the others.

There's a lot of advantages in accepting the defaults of your notation program, if they aren't horrible!

Sibelius offers this as default. It doesn't upset me any more than the alternatives, and at least doesn't look contrived.

enter image description here

MuseScore (I'm guessing that's what you were using?) does this. I don't think it's any improvement. But it doesn't upset me.

enter image description here

Gould is keen that stems should not look attached to two notes. But her example only considers two voices.

enter image description here

I'll have to go to another computer to try Dorico.

And here's what Dorico does. Possibly the winner?

enter image description here

  • Yep, I'm using Musescore. It has occasional positioning issues, particularly when multiple voices interact, that I am used to correct manually. That's why I asked, because here I am not sure if I need to correct it. – KeizerHarm Mar 10 at 14:58
  • Also, what if the octaved voice is a quarter note instead of half note? Then the first notation would become ambigious, wouldn't it? – KeizerHarm Mar 10 at 18:11
  • Yes. But it isn't and so it isn't. – Laurence Payne Mar 10 at 18:46
  • It is a quarter note later in the melody. I didn't share it immediately because I didn't consider the first option that hard, sorry. – KeizerHarm Mar 10 at 18:49
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    OK. See my latest addition. I think maybe Dorico wins. – Laurence Payne Mar 10 at 22:56

Wouldn't this be clear for three voices while avoiding ugly overlapping?

enter image description here

That is Musescore, with the notes highlighted to show the voice/colors.

I had to use the "inspector" panel, and strangely the "chord offset menu" to nudge the notes around.

Voice 1, blue, chord, X:-1.50sp

Voice 3, orange, chord, X:0.50sp

I hit "x" on selected notes to flip the stem directions.

Unfortunately the note heads need to be offset otherwise some of the stems overlap. It's unavoidable. Visually the half notes appear before the other notes, but all three voices clearly have two beats duration so it's not too hard to understand the half notes, quarter note, and first eighth note are simultaneous.

The only other way seems to be...

enter image description here

...and don't worry about the half notes being beamed together to represent a single voice with octave doubling. Visually, you can get the note heads closer together this way.

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    Your preferred solution is the default in Dorico! See my extended answer above. – Laurence Payne Mar 10 at 22:59

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