Two versions of D-A-B chord

Can someone please explain to me which of the last two chords is written correctly and why? What are the rules for writing the soprano stem going up?

  • Note head or note stem? (Header).
    – Tim
    Oct 8, 2021 at 9:22
  • both please, in my examples both are in different places
    – user35708
    Oct 8, 2021 at 10:11

2 Answers 2


From the Music Publishers Association of the United States, Inc. pamphlet "Standard Music Notation Practice: Placement of Note Heads and Accidentals (e)."

When an interval of a second is written with opposite stems, the stems must be in alignment.

Therefore, the first version, with the soprano note on the left, is the correct way to notate a soprano up-stem when the down-stem note is a second below.

Here is an example from Chopin's Nocturne Op. 9 No. 3 (the 7th and 8th measures of the Agitato):

Chopin Nocturne Op. 9 No. 3, Agitato section mm. 7–8

This notation has two benefits:

  1. The note stems align.
  2. The melody is seen first.

Another example comes from Rachmaninoff's Prelude Op. 23, No. 1 (mm. 1–2), the upper voice note heads are written to the left of the lower voice's:

Rachmaninoff, Prelude Op. 23, No. 1, mm. 1–2

  • 1
    Thank you. If you look at the first beat of each bar in your Chopin example, both stems align in the middle however, their placement is different with respect to the bass note. In the first bar the melody note lines up with the bass note while in the second bar it is the inner voices that line up with the bass note and the melody seems displaced to the left. Why the discrepancy?
    – user35708
    Oct 8, 2021 at 16:29
  • @armani I would be guessing. Seems like a good, but separate, question.
    – Aaron
    Oct 8, 2021 at 16:42
  • @armani Looks like it's just to save space and make the spacing between the left-hand notes be relatively consistent. In order to line the right hand stems up with the left, they'd have to increase the spacing between those two sextuplet groups in order for the 16th note in the melody to fit clearly between them. Oct 8, 2021 at 17:02
  • Darrel, with that reasoning, wouldnt the same apply to the following bar? or maybe the following bar has less notes
    – user35708
    Oct 8, 2021 at 18:29

In SATB voice parts, your S and A voices are written correctly. T should be in the lower stave, with stalks up. B is good.

If writing for keyboard, I’d write all the RH notes as block chords. Only use extra ‘voices’ where polyphony demands it.

(‘Which of these’? I only see one example.)

Later: OK, I see you've clarified your question in an edit. As far as it goes, the first version of the final chord, with the stems in line, is correct.

But neither are optimum, either as SATB or for keyboard.

enter image description here

Later again - addressing your comment on 'a 3rd style'

Keyboard writing generally uses more than one voice where necessary, but ONLY where necessary. In example A (below) a second voice IS necessary. A and B are both acceptable (the choice might be influenced by what comes next). Where the texture doesn't demand another voice, C is correct. D MIGHT indicate that the LH is intended to play the lower notes in the treble staff, but that isn't the case here. So do C.

And where there's only one voice in the lower stave, it should follow the normal stalk up/down rule.

enter image description here

  • 1
    The last chord has been written twice, the second time it is different
    – user35708
    Oct 8, 2021 at 10:10
  • Laurence there is a 3rd style where the melody note is different to the inner voices. This is like keyboard style except the melody stems point up regardless of there position on the stave. This style is the keyboard style I was refering to.
    – user35708
    Oct 9, 2021 at 7:04
  • @armani see my extended answer above.
    – Laurence
    Oct 10, 2021 at 11:35

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