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I have the following set of chords for piano. How can I tell the performer to either stress or underline specific notes in the chord (so as to show the melody), i.e. the notes on the heads of which I've marked their names?

Is there a notation technique that should do it? Should this be done by having two voices (as in Tchaikovsky's April)? In this case, the notation would become messy.

  • 1
    Why do you have naturals on the B, F, and C?
    – Max Finis
    May 26, 2016 at 20:36
  • Never mind the notation, can YOU play thhes chords with one hand while bringing out the melody?
    – Laurence
    May 27, 2016 at 12:46
  • @MaxFinis Because just a measure behind I have those notes with accidentals.
    – Veo
    May 27, 2016 at 12:57
  • @LaurencePayne The thing is not to bring out the melody, just emphasise the notes as if they were melody. I am able to do the emphasis.
    – Veo
    May 27, 2016 at 12:58
  • @Veo We may be able to try and help you better if we understood more clearly what you're trying to do with that melodic line. In your post you say "stress or underline" those notes, but in your comment to Laurence Payne you say "not to bring out the melody," and then "just emphasize the notes as if they were melody." I thought your whole intent was to bring out the melody, both visually and sonically. Could you clarify? Without a clearer understanding, I would guess that you could double that "melodic" line in the bass, and leave the treble as is.
    – Max Finis
    May 27, 2016 at 13:45

7 Answers 7


Try something like this: enter image description here

It separates out the main voice, and, by two means, shows that it is emphasised. It's also relatively neat.


Use a smaller note head for the non-melody notes. This would be easy to sight read. Or you could write an additional ossia-type line showing just the melody notes. In either case, an explanation won't hurt. If you only need it for this one measure, you can just write it out: "highlight notes such and such".

  • Actually I tried that before I made my answer with "white" note heads, and the close-voiced chords looked horrible. But it's a good idea in general, and I've seen it in published editions.
    – user19146
    May 26, 2016 at 19:33

The suggestion by Patrx2 is quite neat, but here's another technique you can use to indicate this kind of voicing.

Voice marking

Obviously, if you are writing for (human) voices, you can simply split them onto separate staves, but if the notes are to be played by one hand on the keyboard, it is not very friendly to split them up. On the other hand, if this can be played by two hands, it is much easier to split them onto two staves, and this is the simplest way to play, too.

  • Traditionally, in the Classical tradition (whether or not this tradition would apply to your piece, notationally speaking) a line refers to a glissando. So it would be helpful include directions for what it means. May 27, 2016 at 18:51

Without knowing for how long this layout continues, I would split into two treble clefs, with probably the melody in the lower clef to be played by the left hand. Doing it this way makes it easier to read and to play. As it's currently written, the left hand has nothing to play, while the right hand is asked to do some very unnatural things. If this pattern continues for a while, and the left hand will be otherwise occupied, then I would write the melodic notes with down stems, and the rest up, assuming that most of the melodic notes are lower than the rest of the chords.

However, I would really reconsider writing for piano this way. First, it's not very pianistic, and reads and feels like it's a literal transcription of a work written for other instrumentation, perhaps an ensemble. One solution is to move either the accompaniment or the melody to the bass clef an octave lower. Another is to invert the chords so that the melodic line is on top. As is, I'm not sure what effect you're trying to achieve. As a comparison, look at the first movement of the Beethoven Waldstein sonata, in the chorale-like chordal section where be employs a similar technique with inner voices as the melodic line. The way that's written, it's very clear what the effect is that he's looking for.

  • Since there's apparently nothing for the left hand to do, it could be played as you suggest writing it, with r.h. actually playing the highlighted (or in your case, r.h. ) notes, with both hands mixed up with each other on the keys.
    – Tim
    May 27, 2016 at 6:53
  • 1
    I disagree strongly that this is "not very pianistic". It's the sort of thing that Scriabin does all the time: look at the prelude Op. 37 no. 1. May 27, 2016 at 7:15
  • @BrianChandler What Scriabin did there is not what the OP is doing above. Scriabin puts melodic line on top, with the chords filled out underneath – that's very pianistic. The OP has the melodic line weaving through the lower voices. In fact, what Scriabin does in that prelude is what I'm suggesting as one of the solutions, which is to invert the chords so that the melodic line is on top. The Scriabin actually supports, not contradicts, what I'm saying.
    – Max Finis
    May 27, 2016 at 10:33

I think the neatest way to do this is almost what you did in your example: use a different style of notehead for the emphasized notes. Of course this breaks "the rules" about note lengths, but it should be obvious to most players what it means. You could add a note explaining that the "white" noteheads in the chords should be emphasized.

enter image description here

Incidentally, this is quite easy to do in Lilypond (if you first read and memorize the entire manual, of course!):

\relative c' {
<< { \stemUp <d g a> <a' c d> <d, a' b> <f a> }
   { \stemUp b2*1/2 f g c, }

If it won't cause any issues with printing the score, you could use solid colored noteheads for the emphasized notes.

  • 4
    I disagree about it being obvious what this means; this is exactly the sort of question that gets posted here regularly.
    – Tin Wizard
    May 26, 2016 at 21:34
  • @Amadeus9 which part of "You could add a note explaining that the "white" noteheads in the chords should be emphasized" isn't obvious?
    – user19146
    May 26, 2016 at 23:02
  • 1
    sure, with a note it's pretty clear, but you say "it should be obvious" before mentioning a note, as though the note is an optional afterthought.
    – Tin Wizard
    May 26, 2016 at 23:07

I'm going to go against the grain here with some tough love. If you're not the composer, then kindly disregard. The primary issue in my opinion isn't how to notate this, it's how to avoid making decisions that leave you in this position. This isn't laziness - it's good form. The composed music itself should be clear enough on its own so that the performer (and listener) knows what's happening structurally without any special devices/techniques.

  • 1
    I couldn't agree more. There is probably a better and clearer way to achieve the effect that the OP is after other than trying to figure out how to notate as written. For example, if you look at the same music by taking out the melodic notes, what exactly is the accompaniment doing to help the music, especially the way it's currently voiced? The voice leading in the accompaniment isn't very idiomatic.
    – Max Finis
    May 27, 2016 at 10:56

My first thought would be to split the notes into treble and bass clefs. This is traditionally thought of as the treble will be the 'tune' while the bass is the 'accompaniment'. It will obviously involve a few leger lines, and possibly accentuation marks in the treble, but I can't think of a more apposite way to portray what you want played.

Or do similar with upward and downward stems. With the possibilty of octaving (?) the highlighted notes.

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