# How should I understand bar number notation used by stage management to mark cue points in an opera score?

Whilst working on an opera I have been given a list of cue points that are in the format X/X/X, for example 52/5/1.

This made sense to me as being (presumably) page number/line/bar, so
Page 55
Line(?) 2
Bar 1

Great. But then half way through the list I encountered a few cues with an extra number. For example,
76/3/4/2

How do I count that last number? Is it the second beat of the bar, or literally the second note printed in the bar? The former felt more logical to me, except that I then couldn't work out how you would notate something that happened between two beats.

• Not to state the obvious, but have you asked anyone involved in the project? Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 4:35
• I'm pretty sure it's always better to admit you don't know something already than to remain ignorant of it. If we give you the wrong answer here and you act based on wrong information, it will make you look a lot worse than admitting you don't already know this particular numbering system. Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 5:57
• I've only seen indications with dots rather than slashes, as in page.system.bar, but adding a beat number could be useful for direction or stage management purposes. When the fourth number is taken as a beat number, does the whole make sense, e.g. does something happen on stage at that point? Can you add an example?
– Jos
Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 9:55
• If the last number is indeed the beat, then you'd probably notate something that happened between beats as 76/3/4/2.5 or 76/3/4/2½ or something like that. Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 13:57
• I came back and answered the question once I found out, but it's been deleted by the moderator @Richard. And there's no way for me to contact them to ask why. I was careful to include all of the information to make it a full answer. So not sure why I can't post it... Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 16:32

I've never seen this notation. I'd expect simple bar numbers. But if it makes sense as page/line/bar, I guess you've cracked the code!

But you've GOT to ask. You won't lose face by saying 'I've not come across this sort of notation before. Is it page/line/bar/beat? You WILL lose face by holding up a rehearsal by setting off a maroon at the wrong time!

• "I'd expect simple bar numbers": most opera scores were engraved before the inclusion of bar numbers became standard, so there probably aren't any. Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 13:34
• Fair enough. I usually deal with more modern musical theatre. But still, ask. Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 23:40

how do I count that last number? Is it the second beat of the bar, or literally the second note printed in the bar? The former felt more logical to me except that I then couldn't work out how you would notate something that happened between two beats.

I agree that the second beat is the more likely interpretation. Another argument in favor of this interpretation is that while the "beat" interpretation might not allow a cue between beats (but see Michael Seifert's comment), the "note" interpretation would make it impossible (or at least cumbersome) to place cues between notes, for example if the entire ensemble is holding a single whole note for the duration of an entire measure. The interpretation that the `2` refers to the second note in the bar places an unnecessary restriction on the designer, requiring cues to be scheduled in line with the rhythm of the music.

On top of that, what if there's a duet or other ensemble? Which part's second note is intended?

For all that, though, I wouldn't rely on this analysis or on any other assumption. Just ask. From a comment:

If we give you the wrong answer here and you act based on wrong information, it will make you look a lot worse than admitting you don't already know this particular numbering system.

You can ask the question in different ways, of course, some of which might put you in a better light than others. The Workplace is a better place to ask about those, but I'll suggest something like "I've never seen this system before, so I want to confirm my understanding that the fourth number, if present, refers to the beat. I see that this makes sense for cue 328, but I wanted to be sure" or, if applicable, "I don't know what to make of the fourth number, because if I assume that it refers to the beat then cue 328 doesn't seem to make sense."

The advantage of this approach is that it shows you've applied your intelligence to the problem but are humble enough not to assume that you're right and cautious enough to place the well-being of the project above your own image and reputation. Such an approach would not diminish your stature, in my eyes at least, but would only increase it.