Having some trouble understanding the best way to score piano when a melodic pattern is played across both hands...

Here is the first bar of the section in question, arranged on separate staves, and then again using cross staff beaming. I am struggling to see which would be better to implement. Is there a rule for which one to follow? Also, if the cross staff path is the correct one, is it necessary to include rests in the bass clef?

If there is a far superior way to notate such a passage, I'd love to know.

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  • Your melody jumps too much and has no counter-movements.
    – Neil Meyer
    Mar 8, 2017 at 4:17
  • I think you may need to add a quaver rest in front on the first Ab semiquaver (16th note) in the left hand of bar one. Or use a beam to attach it to the following three notes in the right hand, as you do in bar 2.
    – JimM
    Mar 9, 2017 at 8:04
  • Of the two options, m. 2 is far easier to follow. However, this really shouldn't be scored either way. It can easily be played with one hand (right hand). Leave it to the performer to decide if picking up some of the notes with the left hand makes sense.
    – Aaron
    Jan 10, 2021 at 7:12

2 Answers 2


The only general rule is to make things as clear and easy to read as possible. Your second measure is great. Do a cross-staff beam on the second beat as well.

As a minor touchup note, move the beams on beats 3 and 4 up a bit, and maybe slant them in the direction of the line.

  • I don't see the need for cross-beaming here. The sixteenth notes never go below A, and that's only two ledger lines in the treble clef. Now if it went to F or lower, then yes, I think cross staff beaming would be the way to go, but it seems overkill in this case.
    – L3B
    Mar 8, 2017 at 4:11
  • Sorry. I meant the comment above to go under the question, not this answer. If someone knows how to move it, please tell me!
    – L3B
    Mar 8, 2017 at 4:14

A bit late, but I only just saw this thread!

Both notations are "correct", but they mean different things.

The first bar, with the rests, means that you intend the notes on the top staff to be played with the right hand and the notes on the bottom staff with the left hand.

The second bar, without rests, means you intend everything except the whole-notes to be played with the right hand.

I agree with L3B that the cross-staff beams are pointless in the second bar, especially since they are not even consistent - first you have C and Eb on the top staff, and then on the bottom staff, for no obvious reason.

Keyboard players shouldn't have any problem reading three leger lines above or below either staff, and four are usually OK for occasional notes.

  • "The second bar, without rests, means you intend everything except the whole-notes to be played with the right hand." This is not true. In fact cross staff beaming can be employed exactly to indicate how notes are distributed over the hands even when they make up one cell or phrase
    – Creynders
    Aug 26, 2020 at 8:02

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