A piano part of a big band arrangement uses notation where chords are marked and stems extend to both sides of noteheads:

Extended stems

My guess is that this is marking the highest note of the chord to play, as opposed to (more conventional) notation that only gives the chords and the rhythm.

Could you confirm if my assumption is right? Is this commonly used notation?

  • 2
    Could it be multiple voices with the same note?
    – Zachiah
    Aug 15, 2023 at 20:41
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    I can confirm that this is in no way a standard notation. I've played hundreds of big-band charts and never seen this.
    – Aaron
    Aug 15, 2023 at 21:16
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    @Aaron Maybe it's a regional thing: I've often seen it.
    – PiedPiper
    Aug 15, 2023 at 21:39
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    @Aaron Yes, in a published chart. I have an example on my music stand right now.
    – PiedPiper
    Aug 15, 2023 at 22:55
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    This has been a form of shorthand in jazz and pop for some time. It is more detailed than just chords or chords and rhythm by specifying the top note of the voicing but allowing the chording instrument freedom to select their own voicings. Aug 15, 2023 at 23:46

2 Answers 2


This is used occasionally and means exactly what you think it does: play those chords in that rhythm with those top notes. The exact voicing is up to the player.

Here's another example that's more explicit about the voicings: enter image description here


Not uncommon in guitar or keyboard parts, or maybe in a 'short score' where all the instrument parts are condensed onto one or more staves. Yes, it means to play block chords under the given melody.

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