I’m learning how to read sheet music and I learned Sign of the Times by Harry Styles using one of those yt vids where it tells you the name of the note to play. I know the first notes on the bass clef are C-F-A 4 times but when i looked at the sheet music, it reads like C-A-F.

[sheet excerpt

How do you know in which order you’re supposed to play the stacked notes?

3 Answers 3


Those 'stacked notes' are called a 'chord'. You can read the notes in the chord in any order you like, but you have to play all of them simultaneously.

In case it's not obvious: the right hand plays the quarter notes.

  • Concerning right hand: I would also have assumed this, but can't explain the rests in treble clef system from the restricted context. They would only become sensible, if another voice started subsequently.
    – guidot
    Commented May 6, 2021 at 20:49
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    @guidot Most notation programs add those rests automatically. I wouldn't attribute any significance to them.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented May 6, 2021 at 20:54
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    I’m intrigued by the unusual metronome marking. Makes it really difficult to work out the crotchet speed! Commented May 7, 2021 at 12:49
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    @BobBroadley: Good catch, interesting. It's not even a common divisor for any breakdown in eights or sixteenths. Just listened to the song on spotify (I didn't know it): It's a very straightforward 4/4. The tempo works out be somewhere between 66 and 72 quarters a minute, so I'd say this was transcribed by an amateur, who added A tempo marking (the first from the palette let's say), and adjusted the number to somewhat match the speed of the song. Commented May 7, 2021 at 13:30
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    @guidot it's a grand staff, so the other staff cannot be left completely empty
    – user28245
    Commented May 8, 2021 at 0:40

The notes are stacked like that to tell they all get played simultaneously. That's why they're on top of each other. If they were spread out, they would be played in order, from left to right. They're not, so they all get played together.

The low F at the bottom of the bass clef, also gets played at the same time as the first chord (triad). That's due to it being vertically under that chord. Unfortunately, most players can't reach all four notes with the left hand, so it makes sense to play the triad with the right hand. That also means the low F can be held down through the whole bar, rather than relying on pedalling. The rest in the treble clef is there to say 'nothing is being played here'.


The notes, as answers state, are a chord to be played simultaneously.

OTOH, when the composer wishes for the notes to be played sequentially (the word is "arpeggiated"), there are symbols for them. Here's a simple example:

enter image description here

As pointed out in a semi-duplicate question, the default direction is to play lowest to highest. If the reverse (highest to lowest) is desired, there should be a vertical downward-pointing arrow next to the squiggle line.

  • 1
    Mostly true on the last point. In most classical to modern music, you'd play arpeggios lowest to highest. If you're playing baroque-period stuff or earlier, however, e.g. J.S.Bach, arpeggios go highest to lowest by default, sometimes with an upward arrow for the reverse case. Commented May 7, 2021 at 18:30
  • @DarrelHoffman Interesting - that's not the case for Bach cello music! Commented May 7, 2021 at 19:04
  • It may depend on the score you're looking at. Some modern reprintings try to preserve the original markings, while others may have changed the symbols to what we're used to today. Another example is that Bach-era mordents typically use the note below the principal rather than above unless otherwise noted. I can't speak for cello (I play piano mostly, this would of course have been written for harpsichord, clavier or organ at the time), but I don't see why it would be any different. Commented May 7, 2021 at 19:49

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