I have some flute sheet music that has 2 flutes on the same staff. How to I know which flute plays which part, and furthermore, there are 1s and 2s placed above certain notes in strange places. Do these numbers have anything to do with the 2 parts?

  • 1
    The best way to obtain a good answer is to show the music in question. Otherwise, we have to do some guessing!
    – Tim
    Sep 6, 2017 at 8:18

1 Answer 1


The first player plays the notes written with stems pointing up, the second player the notes with stems down. Usually (but not always) that is the same as "the first player plays the high notes and the second player the low notes."

If only one player plays, for a short passage there should be rests instead of notes written for the other player.

If one player rests for a long time (several bars) the rests may be left out and the first note of the passage is marked 1 or 2 to show who plays it. That instruction continues to apply until another instruction, or there are two notes played simultaneously (i.e. one by each player). Such instructions are often repeated on successive lines of the score, and always repeated at page turns, etc, to avoid any confusion.

Finally, if both players play the same notes, for a short passage, or just one or two notes, this may be shown by single note heads with two stems, one in each direction. For a longer passage the text instructions "a 2" ("For two (players)" in Italian) or "unis." (short for "unisoni" - play in unison).

Here's an example, with the two parts on one staff and written out separately.

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  • That example is great! It shows pretty much all you need to know
    – Aric
    Sep 5, 2017 at 20:53
  • a 2 may also have the Italian long form a due. As the example nicely shows, there also a strong convention: If two notes are given, the higher one is intended for instrument 1 by default.
    – guidot
    Sep 6, 2017 at 7:33
  • @guidot - the second bar shows somewhat different, which seems odd. Can't think why.
    – Tim
    Sep 6, 2017 at 8:22
  • @Tim I think guidot means a performance convention rather than a notation convention. The first player in a group is often called "principal" rather than "first" - and therefore gets to play all the best tunes in the part, which in Western music are usually the top notes. (But in an orchestra flute section, the bottom player gets the consolation prize of doubling on piccolo, and then playing louder than the rest of the whole orchestra combined!)
    – user19146
    Sep 6, 2017 at 20:51
  • If the two parts overlap in a really complicated way for a few bars, it's usually better to write those bars on two staves, rather than use a hard-to-read mess of rests and stems in the "wrong" directions. Also, there are scores where the second player gets a long solo, to give the first player a break before playing something more difficult. For French horns (and sometimes trumpets as well) in practice many orchestras use an extra player to take over the first part before a solo horn passage, to give the principal player a rest - but that is not notated in the published musical score.
    – user19146
    Sep 6, 2017 at 20:59

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