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I was wondering, why on most music sheets the high notes on a treble clef are written above the upper lines and take up so much space on a page whereas it would be better to use 8va and 16va to notate them? Above that, you have to learn those notes to know them whereas using the 8va and 16va makes everything a lot more simple.

In guitar pro, when I write music I often use 8va and 15va. Is it incorrect?

EDIT: Indeed 15va and not 16va, sorry.

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    8va is o.k. 16va should be 15ma.
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 10:07

3 Answers 3

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Depends. The longer your passage goes on in the highest register, the more sense it makes to switch octaves. But depending on the method of notation, adding this element to the score can be a lot more effort than simply adding note after note, so the threshold at which people consider this worthwhile varies.

Also, a lazy score-writer who is only concerned about making their job easier will make different decisions from a professional who always puts the musician's ease of reading first. So this is one if the many intangibles that distinguish cheap from truly professional-grade music scores.

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    Wanted to add here that for many instruments a change in octave also represents different fingerings / shifting / technique. So slapping 8va/15ma above it is not advisable. Many instruments prefer to just read ledger lines. Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 13:35
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First off, 16va is definitely incorrect as explained in the answer to this question and I'm surprised your software lets you write it. The correct ottava notation is 8va/8vb for one octave up/down and 15ma/15mb for two octaves up/down.

As for how often you should use them, I would say sparingly, but it's largely a matter of taste, and will depend on your audience. You may think ledger lines are difficult to read, but frequent changes of octave can be difficult to read too, as can changes of clef. Less experienced players who aren't very confident reading music may well find the ottava notation helpful, but more experienced musicians who are used to ledger lines are likely to find it annoying if overused.

One thing ottava notation is good for is for making it very clear if you're repeating a phrase up/down an octave or two. Also, if you're writing a piece for beginners then it can be a great way to get them exploring the keyboard before they've learnt about ledger lines.

Unless you're going very, very high or very, very low or really, really want to avoid ledger lines then you'll rarely need 15ma/mb. You can cover all the keys on a piano with 8va/8vb and a couple of ledger lines.

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  • 8vb and 15mb are also incorrect, though widely used. They arise from the perception that the "a" in 8va and 8vb means "alta," which it does not.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 13:05
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It depends on the instrument.

On keyboard type instruments such as piano, using ottava (8va) and related notation is useful not only because it saves ledger lines, but because the technique used to play an octave up is essentially the same — you just have to move your hand to a different position on the keyboard.

But for woodwind, brass, or strings instruments, ottava notation is generally not used. The techniques required to play notes an octave apart on theses instruments is different, and players will associate stave positions with these techniques — the fingering (and embouchure) just won't be the same.
Flute or tuba players especially, get used to reading notes on a number of ledger lines quickly and without any problem. An 8va passage for these instruments will be confusing, and the players won't appreciate it at all.

Having said that, sometimes in a full orchestral score, ottava notation might be used to save space on the page — but it shouldn't appear in the players parts.

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