In a music sheet, how could I write down "play this line OR this line, as you like".

The reason is that if the player is skilled, they will choose to play the first line, but if not, they will prefer the second one.

Is there any defined way to write that? Any specific symbols? A convention?

  • This is a completely off-topic comment, but since you seem so keen on not misgendering the player you can always use "they" which is the most common gender-neutral pronoun. It's just friendly advice. Mar 29, 2018 at 14:14

2 Answers 2


That is called an "Ossia", it is a musical term for "alternatively". Which means the player can either play the alternative passage or the original passage. The Ossia is frequently used in Liszt's pieces. The Urtext for Balakirev's Islamey also contains many alternative passages.

Here is an example of an Ossia notation in Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.6 in Db Major.

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An Ossia passage could sometimes be notated only for one clef like in the example. Although I'm not sure if you could change the use of the sustain pedal in the alternative passage, it's better to ask a professional or a teacher. Or someone who might know.

  • 8
    While the accepted answer is correct, this is the better answer since it actually shows what an ossia looks like.
    – SQB
    Dec 8, 2016 at 9:23
  • The ossia is usually a simplified version of the original, in that it contains fewer notes, so will be easier to play, without losing much substance. Although sometimes it's just a slight variation. As such, the pedalling will be exactly the same - assuming the player can pedal correctly, it will work just as well as the original.
    – Tim
    Dec 8, 2016 at 10:17
  • So we can't change pedal instructions in the Ossia passage? Dec 8, 2016 at 12:13
  • it's also used in Holst's music quite a bit... (e.g. St Paul's Suite)
    – dalearn
    Dec 8, 2016 at 13:59
  • I saw quite a few in his St.Paul's Suite. Dec 8, 2016 at 14:09

This is called an Ossia. It's an extra line of music that floats over the music.

  • or under if the notes are really high...
    – dalearn
    Dec 8, 2016 at 14:00
  • @dalearn What do you mean?
    – Karlo
    Mar 29, 2018 at 17:25
  • 1
    @Karlo If the notes are well above the staff it is common to put the Ossia below the notes. Think some violin music where the Ossia is down an octave from the notes written.
    – dalearn
    Mar 29, 2018 at 17:39

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