I am a songwriter and a producer and I am learning how to compose and write music. I am going to be writing guitar, piano, bass and my own vocals. I notice that most sheet music of songs in the genre I am interested in usually have the male vocals transposed an octave higher up with the supporting harmony below. The bass lines are usually an octave higher in the transcriptions as well. I understand that this is for ease of reading. However, for my own arrangement purposes where I am going to be composing and arranging my own music and fitting my vocal parts in between the chords as opposed to on top of them, isn't it better to write things as they are since many times some of the harmony sits above my vocal part. I am looking to get into the best practice for this now. The notation will initially be for my own writing and arranging so it needs to be something I can practice and get comfortable with.

Here is an example. Lets say I start composing with my vocal melody which sits between C3 and middle C4 but I actually write it one octave higher as is most common. When I want to write my piano harmony part on the same grand staff the vocal will have taken that space on the treble clef so either I will also have to transpose the piano part or write it on another clef but for composing it is better to see both parts together.

2 Answers 2


If you are writing for your own use, you can notate your music any way you want.

If you are writing parts for other people to play, you should write them in the correct octave according to the way they are conventionally written: bass or guitar parts an octave higher than they sound, male vocals an octave higher than they sound (when in treble clef), piccolo parts an octave lower than they sound, etc.

However you notate your music for your own use, it's just a couple of mouse clicks to convert the parts so they are correct for others.

  • (Just to make it even more clear than is probably necessary, "correct octave" in this case meant correct according to convention octave, aka sounding an octave below written frequency as the answer indicates.)
    – user45266
    Jun 4, 2021 at 5:39
  • @user45266 Thanks, I tend to assume everybody knows these kinds of things. Edited.
    – PiedPiper
    Jun 4, 2021 at 9:10

It sounds like you are writing an arrangement, not going for a single chart like published sheet music so forget what you see in sheet music. Sheet music is simply a single stave lead vocal which sometimes includes backgrounds, a two stave piano arrangement/reduction and guitar chord symbols on top which may or may not match what is in the piano arrangement.

Write a score and individual parts the way they should be written for a performer. Bass and guitar are transposing instruments and will sound an octave below written. For vocals use octave treble clefs for convenience if necessary and write the backgrounds on a separate chart for clarity if including the backgrounds on the lead vocal part will result in clutter.

  • THanks for the good info. If I have my vocal melody written an octave above and want to write and compose the piano part on the same grand staff, how is that going to be possible since the piano part will need that upper part that I am using for the vocal. Do you understand?
    – user35708
    Jun 3, 2021 at 9:50
  • I have updated the question to include this info. Thanks again
    – user35708
    Jun 3, 2021 at 10:18
  • @armani - Why write your vocals and piano part on the same grand staff? Unless you're writing a solo piano arrangement, I don't think this has ever been done. Even in classical music, the vocals and the piano parts are always on separate parts, so the vocals may overlap in range with the piano part but gets a separate line, system, and clef.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jun 3, 2021 at 12:14
  • @Dekkadeci said it very well but I will add my thoughts too. Sometimes in sheet music the grand staff also contains the melody but in these cases the melody is written into and is a part of the piano arrangement, it is not a piano part with a melody superimposed over it. It is almost impossible to not overlap a piano “part” with a vocal line on a grand staff regardless of what octave you write them in because they live in the same register. Use a separate vocal line. Jun 3, 2021 at 13:28
  • @Dekkadeci So I can look at one while I write the other. I thought this would be easier if they were on the same staff. Looking at intervals and writing as if it was a counterpoint exercise where you are given the melody and you compose the other parts. This is what I wanted to try doing with my vocal melody. Do you think this is silly?
    – user35708
    Jun 3, 2021 at 15:32

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