In piano music, if there is a chord on the treble clef, and some the notes are to be played with the left hand(because it would be hard/impossible to play with one hand alone), how would one go about notating this?

Figure 1

I tried moving them to the bass clef but it result in too many ledger lines:

Figure 2


  • 1
    The term you are looking for is "cross-staff notes" and "cross-staff beaming". This is how it is notated on piano (and concert harp).
    – user1044
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 19:53
  • I frequently see three leger lines in all kinds of pieces. Doesn't seem excessive to me. I almost feel like this is a matter of opinion. I hate cross staff beaming and prefer leger lines or even short 8va sections in this kind of situation. Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 20:44
  • @WheatWilliams I know about cross-staff beaming, but in this case the notes have no flags, which means they can't be beamed. Am I wrong?
    – leFlambeur
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 21:18
  • In Sibelius, at any rate, you can apply Cross Staff to flagless notes. The effect is to remove extraneous rests (but to introduce the well-known anomalies with cautionary and other accidentals).
    – Laurence
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 13:00
  • I would point out also that it isn't your job to tell the performer which hand to use. You can notate in such a way as to imply one hand or the other, or you can suggest which hand to use, but in the end the performer decides. This is much the same as putting fingering suggestions in the music. As I mentioned below, I find your second example the easiest to read.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 18:02

3 Answers 3


What are "too many ledger lines"? Looks perfectly feasible to me. If you want to move them to the upper staff, don't let them share stems with the notes to be played by the right hand. Instead, the stems for right hand point up, and those for left hand down. Once you do that, your "too many ledger lines" solution takes not significantly more space. In fact, when the right hand stems don't need to point up, it might even take less.

If you really want to use the upper staff, however, use chord brackets for the respective hands. This is an example for such brackets though not in the context of hand distribution of notes.

  • After researching your answer I found this. Thanks!
    – leFlambeur
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 21:40

Here are some suggestions. It could be argued that the lines and text in the first two merely confirm the obvious. The lack of tails in the first example obscures the fact that (using Sibelius) they actually ARE Cross-Stave Notes, as evidenced by the lack of extra rests. Where there ARE beams, as in the third example, there's no room for ambiguity.

enter image description here

  • For me, this is much harder to read than having the lower thirds in the bass clef.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 22:17

I would use the bass clef for the lower thirds in your passage. Three ledger lines above the bass clef (and three below the treble) are quite common in music. It all comes down to what's easiest to read. In your first, I have to mentally break the notes apart, and I don't have to in your second so the reading is automatic. The second passage is easier to sight read.

For some ideas, have a look at Brahms' Intermezzi, in particular Op. 117 No. 2 (which you can find here. It has a lot of broken chord passages in the left hand, that run well up into the treble clef and back down to the low notes. You'll see that he doesn't have any hard and fast rules about which clef he puts notes in; rather, he has them in whichever clef is easiest to read. If you study this, you should begin to see reasons that he chooses one over the other.

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