In the 1905 incidental score to Peter Pan by John Crook (1852–1922), there’s a notation I’m unfamiliar with: double-beamed notes with unfilled heads. (See the first four bars of the score below.)

In context they appear to be some variant of the quarter note, but is there something about this form I need to know? If I reproduce this score, will any information be lost if I use standard quarter notes (♩) instead?

John Crook’s score, illustrating the unfamiliar notation

  • Note that the second half of bar 1 will be played the same as the first half. After which the L.H moves into the top stave, taking the lower notes. The rhythm of bar 1 continues.
    – Laurence
    Dec 26, 2014 at 12:43

3 Answers 3


Those are tremolos. The convention is that the notes that are beamed together are alternated using the value of the beam (that means that F♯ and D that start the 2nd bar in the top voice would be alternated as 16th notes, for instance), and the note heads reflect the length of time to be filled, in this case a half note for each notated tremolo group.

  • I am confused by your answer. I am seeing E and G# followed by B and D. Second, do you trem between the two intervals or the two notes within the interval?
    – user50691
    Apr 10, 2019 at 14:05

No, you can't substitute quarter notes. This notation indicates that the player should continue alternating between the two pitches in a sixteenth-note rhythm. Look at the first bar: although the first two beats are written as 8 sixteenths and the second two beats are the unfilled beamed noteheads, the second half of the measure should sound identical to the first half. It's just a common shorthand that saves some ink during repetitive passages. Look for instance in the first movement of Beethoven's Grande Sonata Pathetique, you'll see many examples.

  • Is there a name for this technique? Dec 26, 2014 at 5:54
  • 4
    Yeah, I think "measured tremolo" is the best phrase to describe it. If it were three beams then it would be unmeasured, meaning as fast as possible, but one or two beams is a shorthand for eighth or sixteenth notes alternating. Dec 26, 2014 at 5:57
  • 1
    @PatMuchmore: Is three beams necessarily "unmeasured", or would that depend upon whether the piece used 32nd notes elsewhere and was at a tempo where 32nd notes would be plausible? I would expect that an editor who intended 32nd notes would probably want to include a footnote specifying that, but would there be anything "incorrect" about such notation?
    – supercat
    Dec 26, 2014 at 18:15
  • @supercat, Great question. Definitely possible for it to mean 32nd notes if the piece is quite slow or, as you say, already has been using 32nds regularly. In that case I'd use 4 for unmeasured. The footnote isn't a bad idea, even though most would probably know just from context. Better safe than sorry if it's an important distinction... Dec 26, 2014 at 18:21

In context they appear to be some variant of the quarter note

The other answers are right: those are tremolos. But you're not completely off the mark, either: there is other music where, indeed, eights with open noteheads are a notation for quarter notes, and can be beamed: in Couperin's Goûts Réunis one finds for example:

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  • Also for instance in Charpentier's O salutaris
    – Karlo
    Dec 5, 2018 at 15:34
  • 1
    So called "void" or "white" 3/2 notation is a holdover from mensural notation, but composers like Couperin and Charpentier used "ordinary" notation as well. Some printers even requested separate moveable type to be able to typeset it. But why? One hypothesis is that it denotes a slow 3/2 (so a sesquialtera rather than a tripla proportion)
    – Hans Lub
    Jan 3, 2019 at 16:37
  • In addition, I suppose that the time signature "2/3" should be "3/2" in the picture?
    – Karlo
    Jan 5, 2019 at 10:21
  • 1
    Yes, this is usually corrected in modern editions. In contrast to "void" notation, which was used by many more composers, these inverted time signatures seem to be peculiar to Couperin. He has a few more of them in his Pièces de Clavecin, like an 8/3 in les Baccanales , or an 8/4 instead of a 4/8 in l' Ausoniène. I don't know of any good explanation for them.
    – Hans Lub
    Jan 5, 2019 at 10:56

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