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I know that when you have one stave with S/A or T/B combined you have the convention that the sopranos (or tenors) always have tails up, and altos (or bases) have tails down.

However, when it comes to 8-part harmony compressed into 4 staves, does that convention still apply?

I mean, would Sop 1 be tails up, and Sop 2 be tails down (and the same for Alto 1 / Alto 2, Tenor 1 / Tenor 2 etc), or is the split usually done purely on note pitch (the "ones" always get the higher pitched note) regardless of the tail direction?

Example:

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First note: is the Bb or the Eb part 1?

Also, for bar 3, is it safe to assume that the pitch defines the part, since there are no other clues to go on?

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The first way you describe it is standard: S1, A1, T1 and B1 will always have upstems, and the rest have downstems. This will be true even if, for example, Soprano 1 temporarily goes lower than Soprano 2—in fact, that's the point. Otherwise, a person singing soprano 1 wouldn't know which line they were supposed to sing, or at least wouldn't be able to tell with ease. Of course, if Soprano 1 is almost always below Soprano 2, you should switch the parts. The "ones" should be higher than the "twos" more often than not.

EDIT TO ANSWER YOUR ADDITIONAL QUESTION:

In the first beat, the Bb is part 1 and the higher Eb is part 2.

  • And if they're both tails-up or tails-down (shown as a simple chord) then it's purely pitch based (unless ties force otherwise)? – Majenko Oct 20 '17 at 14:11
  • @Majenko No, you shouldn't connect the notes to the same stem ever, just like standard SATB on a grand staff. Even if they're singing the same exact pitch, you should have two stems on the same notehead. – Pat Muchmore Oct 20 '17 at 14:13
  • But if they are (not by me) then it's safe to assume that the pitch defines the part for that specific note? (I'll expand my example above - bar 3). – Majenko Oct 20 '17 at 14:16
  • That example is copied, verbatim, from a piece of sheet music I am transcribing so I can practice it better. I guess the publisher got lazy for some bits of it... – Majenko Oct 20 '17 at 14:24
  • @Majenko Hmmm, yeah I guess so. That's the only assumption that makes any sense. – Pat Muchmore Oct 20 '17 at 14:58

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