I have been transcribing a piece in 4/4 time for the piano. I am not fully certain as to how I should format the notes on the upper staff – as they split every beat.
I have provided 3 options below for how I think this could be formatted, but am unsure which is best (or if there is an even better way to do so that I am not aware of).

three options for representing one bar of notes

More generally, is it necessary for the notes on both staffs to clearly show every beat?

  • 1
    All three measures shown should be written rhythmically as measure 2 is. The half-measure should always be clear, but it's not necessary (in this example, at least) to show every single beat.
    – Aaron
    Jun 10, 2022 at 2:01
  • 2
    It is a bit weird to have staccato on a tied note, but in this case, since the surrounding notes will be quarter notes, your meaning will be perfectly clear and shouldn't give cause for objection. (And for anyone who complains, just tell them that Chopin sometimes puts staccatos on half-notes.)
    – Aaron
    Jun 10, 2022 at 2:54
  • 3
    At the risk of making this seem opinion based, I think the first one is most readable. It clearly shows the syncopation also. I would have no problem sight reading that rhythm. The third one is a firm no. Having read the comment about staccato I wonder why not just make all the upper notes eighth notes? Jun 10, 2022 at 4:36
  • 1
    Let's look at intent here: basically you want to have 2 sets of 4th notes, with the upper ones following an 8th later, and playing staccato? If you want to spell them out as 4th notes, you need to be consistent and replace the 8th rests with tied notes too and use staccato on the tied half notes (as Aaron wrote) - or you could go the more pragmatic road and replace the upper 4th notes with 8ths and get rid of all the ties (as Todd wrote) Personally I'd go for the 8ths, since this is piano.
    – Creynders
    Jun 10, 2022 at 7:13
  • 1
    @Tim This is standard for chromatically rising/falling lines: sharps when ascending chromatically; flats when descending chromatically.
    – Aaron
    Jun 10, 2022 at 7:52

2 Answers 2


Of the options you have provided, the first is the best as the syncopation is clearest. But you'd probably want make the final note in the upper staff tied across the bar line (so that it gets played with the same length as all the other notes).

It is not explained why you have two staves in bass clef, or why this passage of notes is represented jumping between staves. There could be a good reason for this, but perhaps there isn't — as one hand can play this passage alone.

Changing all of the crotchets (quarter notes) to quavers (eighth notes) will makes a difference to how it sounds, (which might not be what you want to hear), but it certainly clarifies the rhythm.

Here are four more options using only quavers, all of which I would suggest are much more clear than the options you have provided:

Four more options representing the same passage of notes

The second option (my preference) is nice as it gets rid of all the visually noisy rests, and keeps the ascending and descending chromatic voices (hands) separated.

The third option (my other preference) is perhaps the easiest to read, but doesn't separate the voices in any way — this leaves the choice whether to use one or two hands up to the performer (which could be a good thing).

  • 1
    I'd go for option 2 for the reasons you give and also because the flats are in one hand and the sharps in the other. And it'll still be clear when OP has marked the RH notes as staccato. Jun 10, 2022 at 9:55
  • 1
    If I saw option 3, I would wonder why there’s no whole rest for the right hand. Option 4 to me is archaic. I greatly prefer two staves in bass clef when both hands are playing low. The only time moving the right hand down (or left hand up) and preserving the clefs is justified is when there is a run or phrase that quickly goes low to high or high to low, since it makes the “shape” of the music more readable. This isn’t only my opinion, it’s supported both by publisher styles and scholarly recommendations (e.g., Elaine Gould). Jun 10, 2022 at 11:11
  • @ToddWilcox you're right, options 3's upper staff does deserve a whole bar rest. Jun 10, 2022 at 11:21
  • 1
    Regarding option 3, I would interpret it to mean the composer wants me to play the whole figure with my left hand, especially if there’s a whole rest in the upper staff. I would wonder why, and I might take artistic liberty and play it with both hands. But that’s what 3 looks like to me: left hand only. 4 says use both hands down low but again I’m only used to seeing that in old editions and/or ones that are trying to adhere closely to the manuscript. And composers are not necessarily great engravers. Jun 10, 2022 at 11:26

Versions 1 and 2 are both acceptable: version 1 is readable because the syncopation is simple, version 2 clearly shows the middle of the bar. There is no other good option.

Note the stem on the E-flat should be down in each case.

Also, since this is easily playable with one hand, it might be a good idea to notate it as such (on one staff).


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