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I have piano sheet music that has this:

Right-hand written in treble clef with many lower ledger lines plus "L.H. over" indication

But I wanted to change the right hand clef to be lower to get rid of all the ledger lines:

Same passage as above moved to bass clef

But then I realized I could put the left hand over part on the bottom staff like this:

Same passage as above but with chord and "L.H. over" indication moved to left-hand staff with clef change only for that chord

I am just wondering:

  1. what is the most common thing to do in a situation like this?
  2. Is it too jarring changing the clef and back so quickly and in the middle of a measure?
  3. Is it really necessary to write "L.H. over" or something like that? (If so, what is the best thing to write?). Or should the pianist "just know"?
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  • The third version is easiest to understand. If you think a hint is necessary, L.H. is sufficient
    – ttw
    Dec 25, 2023 at 20:37

3 Answers 3

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TL;DR

Sample 3 is the way to go. It's fine to change clefs, and no "over" indication is needed. This is clearly illustrated in a passage from Beethoven's "Pathetique" sonata (Op. 13, mm. 49–56). The right hand repeatedly crosses over the left, indicated only by clef changes in the right-hand part.

"Pathetique" sonata, Beethoven, mm. 49–56
(Image source: IMSLP)


1. What is the most common thing to do in a situation like this?

For a single note/chord, it can be written as in the third example. In the below passage from Debussy's "Le Petite Negre" (mm. 6–11) the hand-crossing (mm. 9–11) is given no explicit indication, but is clear to the pianist.

"Le Petite Negre", Debussy, mm. 6–11
(Image source: IMSLP)

2. Is it too jarring changing the clef and back so quickly and in the middle of a measure?

Not at all. This is quite common. Chopin does this at the end of his etude in Gb major, Op. 10 No. 5. For the penultimate chord, the left hand jumps to the treble clef, then back to the bass clef.

Etude in Gb major, Chopin, mm. 84–85
(Image source: IMSLP)

3. Is it really necessary to write "L.H. over" or something like that? (If so, what is the best thing to write?). Or should the pianist "just know"?

It's not necessary to give an explicit indication (the above Debussy, for example). However, it is sometimes done when the extra clarity is needed. The below image is the final measure of Serge Bortkiewicz's Prelude III in E major (Op. 40, 1931, first edition)

Explicit hand-crossing indication in Bortkiewicz Op. 40 No. 3 final measure
(Image source: IMSLP)

The left hand starts the arpeggiation from the bass staff, the right hand takes over in the treble staff, but the left hand then crosses over the right to play the final note of the arpeggio. "M.S." (mano sinestro) is the Italian abbreviation for "Left Hand", and reinforces the use of stem direction as clarification of how the arpeggio should be played.

Other options for hand-crossing

Third staff

When the hand-crossing is extensive, it can be easier to read by adding a third staff. Liszt's etude "Un Sospiro" does this, along with stem direction to indicate which hand should play the given note. Measure 3 and 4 are shown here.

"Un Sospiro", Liszt, mm. 3–4
(Image source: IMSLP)


A related notation is discussed in What does the L-shaped symbol attached to C5 and G4 on the top staff mean?. In this case the notation indicates when the left or right hand should play a note that would otherwise be understood as played with the other.

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Firstly, piano players would much prefer to see an 8va (even over a long stretch) to an octave clef — octave clefs are not for piano.

Having said that, that octave of C’s in the bass isn't even low enough to require an 8va — two leger line below bass clef is instantly identifiable as C, and the interval of an octave is quite recognisable. (See some of the examples in: Why use 5 or more ledger lines below the bass clef instead of ottava bassa lines for piano sheet music?.)

So, your third option would be fine if you simply got rid of the octave clef:

The right hand part in bass clef.  A clef change for the high chord in the left hand part.

This type of brief clef change isn’t too bad or uncommon for piano (as long as it's not interrupting a melodic phrase).


When necessary, left and right hands are usually indicated with the Italian abbreviations: m.s. and m.d. (for mano sinestra and mano destra) respectively, though French: m.g. and m.d. (main gauche and main droite) are often seen, and English: LH and RH would also be fine.

Another way to separate each hand’s part on the same staff is with half bracket symbols: ⸢ & ⸤, as seen in arpeggiated chord and half bracket symbol - what does it mean? (piano).

Hand crossing can be marked with sopra for over, and sotto for under. But this is not required in your example — it's obvious that the left hand has to go over.


Each hand usually sticks to a stave of its own, but it is sometimes okay to move one hand’s voice across to the other staff (and I think it makes sense for this passage). My proposal is below, but it is hard to tell if this would work for the rest of the piece. Note the position of the rest.

The right hand part in the lower staff.  The m.s. (mano sinestra) marking is used for the high chord in the upper staff for in the left hand part.

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Of the solutions you suggest the third solution is the best, particularly as it makes it clear that you want a half note. There are other, even better solutions (see the answer by @ElementsinSpace). No pianist would have any trouble understanding what you mean. There's absolutely no need to add "over" and "L.H." is probably superfluous as well.

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