I have a simple song for which I know two melodies to play. They are not played simultaneously - one has to choose between one of them.

What is the common/standard notation for that?

As far as I know, a piece of music where two melodies are played simultaneously (by different instruments) is written like this:

Two melodies for same lyrics, presented as if two instruments on single score

So how would it look like (in standard notation) if the two melodies are alternatives, not both part of the music?

And if both melodies have a name (e.g. "Foo's version" and "Bar's version" named after the two componists Foo and Bar), where would these names be written?

  • 1
    As a clarification: are you also scoring an accompaniment that is identical for both melodies? That is, is including both melodies in a single score the most efficient way to notate the song, as opposed to just writing it out twice?
    – Aaron
    Sep 30, 2021 at 19:15
  • @Aaron What you see in the picture is the whole song (two versions of it), so no, there is no portion of music shared between both. Or, in fact there is: the first three notes and the last two.
    – Kjara
    Sep 30, 2021 at 19:22
  • 1
    Totally irrelevant to the question, but: as Albrecht noted, the metric emphasis of the text demands that the first note be a pickup. Sep 30, 2021 at 21:01

3 Answers 3


Given the brevity of the melody and the fact that there are no other parts involved, the best way to write it would be as though it were two different songs. That affords the greatest visual clarity and eliminates any uncertainty over whether there are two parts to be sung together or perhaps a main melody and a secondary melody (as opposed to two equal options).

Melodies notated separately on single page

Whether the lyrics are included separately from the notes as in the above example or included with each melody is according to taste.


When just an occasional note is different, a bracketed cue-sized note may be sufficient (example A). In your case, however, I think there are enough differences to warrant an ossia stave (example B). Maybe even a full-sized one, if the two versions are of equal status.

Either way, some explanatory text would be in order, to make it clear that the ossia is an alternative, not to be simultaneously performed!

enter image description here

  • So you say there is no difference in notation between "play those two melodies simultaneously" and "choose one of those two melodies". So how would a musician know which is the case? You say some explanatory text would be in order - how would that look like? Is that totally up to me or is there some standard? If yes, can you update your picture accordingly?
    – Kjara
    Sep 30, 2021 at 19:30
  • 3
    I'm surprised that the conversation thus far hasn't involved the marking "Ossia." Both of the options shown above would be great in a situation in which one version is the default or preferred version, and another is an alternative. Personally, if both options are meant to be equal, I'd go with Aaron's option, with some text instructions about choosing. Sep 30, 2021 at 19:49
  • The song is in F maj., missing Bb signature an up-beating. Sep 30, 2021 at 21:22
  • @AlbrechtHügli Since the song contains only notes that are present in C major, why should I make it F major? (Sorry if this is a dumb question, but my knowledge of music notation is ... limited.) I agree about the prelude, but if I use a prelude, I can't put the whole song into one line (can't repeat whole block). For reasons, space goes before correct notation, in this case.
    – Kjara
    Oct 1, 2021 at 10:51
  • 1
    @Kjara Correct notation must be paramount, otherwise you are not notating what you want. Players will play what they see. Where the barline comes is important in articulation and expression, and the right key-signature aids singers in particular to know when they have reached "home", and accompanists to create an accompaniment from just the melody. And it's not difficult to get right, and takes up no more space. Oct 1, 2021 at 12:13

Apart that this song has an up-beat and needs 1 flat it has to be written in 2 versions, because the accompaniment will be different:

I-I-V-I or I-V-V-I.

  1. F F C F 2) F C C F or F Gm C7 F

So you can notate the lyrics with one tune and add the second tune as supplement with the remark that it can be played or sung alternately to the first version.

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