This question is about how to write instruments names on a score.

On the page at:
it states:

list the full instrument names and include all instruments. In subsequent systems, use abbreviations for the instrument names (if you only have 1-2 instruments, you can omit instrument names entirely).

I have 2 human voices in my song and a piano (expressed by 2 staves exactly); each of the human voices have exactly one stave. So there are three instruments in total (which are 2 human voices and a piano).

Following the above quote, when the instrument first appear in the music I am labeling it as "Voice 1" as the main voice, "Voice 2" as the background voice, and the other 2 staves as "Piano" where the 2 piano staves are indicated by a curly right bracket (see image).

On following lines, at the beginning of each such line I use the abbreviation "V1", "V2", and "Pno." for "Voice 1", "Voice 2" and "Piano" respectively.

I have sketched out a representative sheet music in the image to describe the above notation:

Sheet music for two voices and piano with labeling as described above

My question is: Am I writing the instruments in a standard professional way in my sheet music?

I expect this is an easy question for someone with more experience than me—but notating music is a learning process for me.

Update: after reading the answer I think that the following, sketched below, would be a good way to do the notation. Showing Voice1 (main voice), Voice2 (backing voice), Piano at the start if the first line of bars. The simply using the square bracket for the two voice staves and the curly bracket for the two piano staves for the remainder of the sheet music and where each line of new bars start. I think using this notation it is clear what is meant-it is for a pop song,on a single piano,with backing vocal where the backing vocals has different words to the main vocals-though I think the same notation would apply for the hypothetical scenario of if the words of the two voices was the same words.

enter image description here

  • One thing I notice is that you're missing a vertical line on the left-hand side that should connect every staff in each system. Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 14:56
  • @ElementsinSpace Noted-it needs a vertical line type symbol beside voice 1 and voice 2.The typical cases where the vertical line type symbol can be ommited and the right curly bracket for the piano can be ommited simultaneously is when there are 1 or 2 instruments (e.g. 1 voice on one stave exactly+1 piano in 2 staves exactly).
    – Chez
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 15:09
  • What type of music? Is it more like a rock song or more like art music? Or musical theatre? Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 18:48
  • @ToddWilcox t is for a pop song,on a single piano,with backing vocal where the backing vocals have different words to the main vocals.
    – Chez
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 6:47
  • @ToddWilcox I have updated my question to show what notation I will use
    – Chez
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 6:50

2 Answers 2


Different editors and publishers will have different guidelines (like with style guides for newspapers or scholarly publications, there's plenty of variety in music publishing as well), so there's no single "correct" way to do this.

Now, from my personal experience as a classical musician, in the case of vocal music with minimal accompaniment (only piano) like this, it is unnecessary to repeat the instrumentation at the start of each system, as it will already be obvious (due to the braces) which staves apply to the piano and which ones (due to the underlay of lyrics and the order in which they appear) apply to which voices. This can be seen, for example, in this piece from Schumann's Op. 114 (ed. Breitkopf & Härtel): Schumann, Op. 114, Nr. 1

It might also be possible to entirely omit indications, though that is more usually seen with Lieder for a single singer than pieces for more voices, ex. Schubert op. 3 no. 3 (ed. Peters): Schubert, Op. 3 No. 3

One thing I would note is that if you have specific vocal ranges (soprano, mezzo-soprano, ...) in mind, it would be better to indicate those than merely "Voice 1" or "Voice 2". For example, from a cantata by Bach (BWV 110, Neue Bach Ausgabe, ed. Bärenreiter): BWV 110, mvt 5

Finally, little addition not strictly related to your given example, the recommendation to write the instruments at the start of each system might be more of a practical concern in orchestral scores (where there may be a much larger number of instruments in the score), though even that is far from universal, as a look at editions of Beethoven's 9th Symphony (link) - an example among so many others - will reveal. In any case, as the score in such a case is intended for conductors and not individual players, this rarely poses problems as (professionals, at least, your mileage may otherwise vary) conductors will tend to know the pieces they're conducting very well and will also be used to the standardised instrument order one sees on such scores.

  • 2
    This is in agreement with Elaine Gould's Behind Bars (pp.507–510). For small ensembles, instrument names need only be given at the beginning of the piece (or movement) and need not be repeated on subsequent systems.
    – Aaron
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 20:52
  • So there is no standard way as your answer above implies but a main thing is it is clear enough what is meant by whatever notation is used as your answer implies. Does that mean a curly piano brace can be omitted in a piano solo (with 2 staves exactly)? for example done at upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/… if the word piano is written beside the stave at the top WITHOUT using a piano brace.
    – Chez
    Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 3:27
  • 1
    "Piano" music: very much non-standard without braces (I can't find such an example in my personal collection). The only place I remember seeing such is in old (18th cent.) manuscripts; though even printed editions from that far back (ex. bach-digital.de/receive/BachDigitalSource_source_00003450) tend to include braces; as do even plenty of manuscripts (ex. bach-digital.de/receive/BachDigitalSource_source_00001076; bach-digital.de/receive/BachDigitalSource_source_00019287). In any case, the 18th century is a very far cry from modern publishing practice.
    – AlexJ
    Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 4:51
  • Re "standard": I wouldn't say there is "no standard way", in that there are clearly some things which will feel awkward if not done in a particular way. Although yes, what "rules" there are are a bit like those of voice leading: broadly similar but with much room for variation, so long, as, as you say, the notation is "clear enough". Aaron mentions Gould's "Behind Bars"; that's as good a starting point as any, you may also wish to take a look at others mentioned here: music.stackexchange.com/questions/76123/…
    – AlexJ
    Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 4:58
  • 1
    If the number of written-out parts changes, as in a condensed score, you need to make sure it is very obvious which part disappears and which part re-appears. Labels are one way to do this. Alternatively don't allow parts to disappear; write out every part's rests in full.
    – Peter
    Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 14:12

AlexJ’s answer gives some excellent specifics; but another important general piece of advice for all questions like this is: look at good-quality published examples of pieces/songs in the same genre.

This makes sure that you’re finding the conventions appropriate to the genre — jazz, classical, pop, and other sheet music traditions all have slightly different standard choices. It also gives you the best footing to judge what you like — when you read/play/sing from the printed piece, which was easier to use? Was it too sparse or abbreviated and difficult to understand, or was it too detailed, with unnecessarily repeated markings getting in the way?

If notation guides/textbooks (and advice like AlexJ’s) and published examples all agree on some point, then almost certainly, that’s good practice to follow. If they conflict, there can be many possible reasons. Maybe the guide is describing conventions from a different genre (classical vs pop, art-songs vs folk-songs, …) Often guides and advice can be more conservative — describing the standards of a generation ago, when publishing practice has moved on. Conversely, sometimes publishers can be sloppy or cheap, and use notations that are quicker to write/typeset but harder to read (especially common in American mid-20th-century publishing, in my experience) — guides are more likely to describe “best practices”. So by combining guides with a range of examples, you can consider all these and make an informed choice which models to follow.

Finally, looking at similar published pieces is good to do anyway anyway for many reasons — it will teach you more about all the conventions and techniques of the genre, both notational and compositional.

  • 1
    +1 for mentioning explicitly (i.e. look at good-quality published examples) what I did by example
    – AlexJ
    Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 13:49

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