How Do I Play This Section of Jimbo's Lullaby (Piano)? Novice (Self Studying) Music Theory and Piano

In the segment of the piece shown below (measures 9–13), which notes and dyads do I play on which beat(s)? Specifically, measure 9.

"Jimbo's Lullaby" measures 9–13

I've been trying to use the below video to figure it out. 32 seconds in on this video, the pianist plays Bar 9 of this piece. I am very confused as to the ties and slurs in Bar 9 and what he is actually playing. The time signature is 2/2 (think there is a typo in the key signature). For the measures shown and the video, it appears the pianist is playing G5, F4-G4, F4-G4, F4-G4, Eb4, F4-G4, Db4, Eb4, F4-G4, Eb4. I counted the number of F4-G4's in the video so I know how many he is playing, but I am not sure which notes correspond to which of the F4-G4 dyads (in the red box in the attached pic).

(Secondarily, when I attempt to add up the note values for the first bar (9) I am confused as to how you can have a "whole note" plus all the other notes within the bar, and all their values add up correctly.)

The video I'm using as a reference is:

  • Two things: 1. what makes you think that "there is a typo in the key signature"? 2/2 is a standard and common time signature, it indicates that the pulse is based on a "minim" (half note, 1/2) and there are two beats of that pulse for each bar; 2. what you indicate are two different voices: E♭ and D♭ belong to another voice which is not the same as that used by F and G. The fact that they are on the same stave isn't relevant: you can have a whole note on the bottom stave and still have 8 quavers on the bottom. Aug 6, 2021 at 2:15
  • 4
    As @musicamante wrote, this is an example of "multiple voices" — a common occurrence in piano music. I've linked to another similar question on the same topic, and there are many others. You can look at the "Linked Questions" list for your question, the duplicate I've proposed, and others. You could also search for "multiple voices", "too many notes", or "too many beats."
    – Aaron
    Aug 6, 2021 at 3:13
  • 1
    (Hm, I wonder whether et un peu gauche is meant to be a bit of a pun, on a left-hand passage...) Aug 6, 2021 at 14:18
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    @musicamante the key signature in the still image (not in the video) is a typo because it shows G flat and C flat (i.e., the flats are placed as if it were a bass clef staff, but it is a treble clef staff).
    – phoog
    Aug 8, 2021 at 1:05
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    @AndyBonner my French isn't quite fluent either, so Wiktionary to the rescue! If you're into etymology, it's fascinating: gauche is a cousin of English walk and replaced senestre in the 1500s (presumably because "clumsy" was less negative than "evil"). It's hard to say for sure, of course, because bass pitches evoke elephants and are typically played with the left hand. If he'd wanted an awkward sparrow, he could've specified the l.h. for a treble passage, which would have been a clear joke. Still, I think he must have known what he was doing.
    – phoog
    Aug 9, 2021 at 15:10

2 Answers 2


A portato indication is not uncommon in piano music. M-W's definition, semidetached phrasing in musical performance, is good. It's also described as somewhere between legato and staccato with reference to the piano. It's almost always dots under a phrase/slur marking for piano; it can be dots or dashes for string.

Note the nuances Brahms indicates in second measure, right hand, of this example from his second Piano Quartet, op.26, second movement, m.10:

enter image description here

The right hand has two separate phrases, the second of which consists of two slurred notes and two portato notes. Brahms is clearly indicating something about the duration/touch of these notes -- a bit detached, but still within a single phrase with the two legato notes (it's a slow movement, so a short staccato sounds odd here, IMO). The upper strings, however, have two bows over the last four eights notes, not one. These match the two phrase marks in the piano's left-hand for those beats.

In the OP's Debussy example, the flats are misplaced in the treble clef key signature. The portato (ending legato/phrase mark and the dot over the second F+G) in the first measure can refer only to the attack and the notes' relation to the first F+G and not their length/release, since the tie to the following notes takes precedence.

  • Thank you DjinTonic. Do you have any idea if a Portato symbol is available in Sibelius? Tried to reproduce the Debussy phrase in Sibelius to understand how it plays back and could not find a Portato symbol. Searched their manual and forum with no luck, so I just posted the question on the Sibelius forum.
    – DeanP
    Aug 7, 2021 at 16:25
  • @DeanP Sorry, I'm not at all familiar with the program, but I would try simply adding the staccato and then a phrase over/legato sign between the notes.
    – DjinTonic
    Aug 7, 2021 at 16:30

The video explains everything: rhythm, notelength, pedal, ties, slurs ...

There's one point to emake clear: the slur above the staccato which means portato:


  • 1
    Portato is for strings, this is piano piece...
    – Divide1918
    Aug 6, 2021 at 9:33
  • That's if they're slurs. Look more like ties to me. How to play portato on piano..?
    – Tim
    Aug 6, 2021 at 11:01
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    They look like ties, true. But how differentiate slurs from ties when they include only 2 or 4 notes? Portato can be played on any Instrument: something like nonlegato and tenuto, but certainly not staccato or legato. Of course its not the same like on a string (bow) or woodwind and brass Instrument. Organ would be clearer than a Piano. Maybe in this case here the composer wants to say espressivo? Aug 7, 2021 at 15:55
  • The video demonstrates all of those things. It doesn't explain anything, least of all why and how the notation describes the music being played.
    – phoog
    Aug 8, 2021 at 0:57
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    Where you are right, you are right, phoog. ;) Aug 8, 2021 at 12:10

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