I was studying a sheet music for chorus and accompanying piano and have seen a notation that I didn't know how to interpret. There are several parts of the score that shows two simultaneous notes (tones for the same syllable), or a chord, for the voices to execute. Well, to my knowledge it is impossible for the human voice to execute chords... Can someone explain what this means? How do I know which of the notes to perform?

(note the staffs for soprano and tenor) sheet

  • 3
    Simple answer would seem to be (although I don't know this piece) that different singers are required. You don't need to sing a chord, you just need a choir :-)
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 7:46
  • I'm sure the answers have it right in this case. That said, if I recall correctly the bass solo recitative in the fourth movement of Beethoven's 9th does have two note "chords" notated at some points (at least in editions I've seen, not sure about the manuscript). I've read those are meant to be alternative notes to sing if one can't hit the highest notes. Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 13:21
  • The other answers have it with the suggestion that you'll need multiple voices for each part. Or several Lalah Hathaways: youtube.com/watch?v=0SJIgTLe0hc Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 15:29
  • 2
    This might be interesting to you. youtube.com/watch?v=vC9Qh709gas
    – Caleb
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 16:00
  • This type of note is known as a vocal chord.
    – Milo P
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 21:11

2 Answers 2


This is actually not uncommon. You perform all of them! In this example, the soprano section splits into two parts. Half of the sopranos sing the top note, and the other half of the sopranos sing the bottom note. At the same time, the tenor section splits into two parts. First and second soprano, first and second tenor. Therefore in this short example there are 6 vocal parts, not 4. In a typical choir, each member will already be assigned to sing the first (higher) part or the second (lower) part within their section whenever the parts are divided. Often the higher and lower parts within each section will even sit on separate rows. Therefore choirs already know how to handle this division of parts.

  • 2
    You may think of a choral arrangement as S. A. T. B., four parts. But this is an example of S. S. A. T. T. B., six parts. Much choral music is in eight parts, or S. S. A. A. T. T. B. B. Such pieces are labeled that way at the top of the first page of the sheet music, to alert the choir that the sections will be sub-divided.
    – user1044
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 9:27
  • 4
    If you don't know which part you should sing with, ask your choral director: deciding that is part of their job.
    – Karen
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 14:06
  • Or sing the part that feels more comfortable for your voice and that those around you are singing, and pray your musical director does not ask you to sing the other one!
    – dumbledad
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 19:52

This is called divisi (abbr. div.). It is used not only for choirs, but for instrumental music as well and is very common. Just as an example, the 3rd movement from Mozart's 40th symphony in G minor:

enter image description here

The instruction tells the musicians to split into groups, each playing a different line. The lines can move in parallel, but can also be completely different.

Let's look at the score.

The horns staff (in green) is for 2 horns1 and is written in divisi for the 1st horn (top line) and 2nd horn (bottom line). You can see that the parts move in parallel and near the end of the page they merge again. When merging, the editorial options are either the double-stem note as shown above, or the reverse instruction for divisi, called unis. (short for in unison).

The 2 oboes and 2 clarinets2 (in red) have a divisi which is not parallel - the top line holds a note while the bottom line jumps, then they switch - the bottom line holds a 3/4 note while the top line descends. They then merge.

It's also possible for the parts to intersect and cross. One line can start low and rise, while the other starts high and descends, resulting in the 2nd part being above the first.

For choir, the divisi is usually parallel and kept simple, as in your case. In the above instrumentation it is clear for the players who plays which part, but if you have many singers in the choir then your conductor must assign (split) who sings which line in the part.

1Usually you would have 1 horn in G and 1 in Bb, but here Mozart decided that he doesn't need one in Bb.
2The clarinets part is a special addition by Mozart. The lines were taken from the oboe part.


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