I am writing a piano score and at one point I have a bar with multiple voices, one of which is quite high above the staff.

Two voices with no 8va

I would like to write the top voice with 8va to make it more readable, but I'm not sure if it would apply to the lower voice or not. Which of these is the correct way to write this? Or is there a less ambiguous way to notate this?

8va does not affect lower voice8va does affect lower voice

  • The answer below us great. But for your example, surely it would be easier to put the lower notes in the lower stave (with a change to treble clef) anyway... This would then also mean that the 8va bracket is less ambiguous. Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 14:51
  • @BobBroadley I think you're right that that's best in this case, but I generally try to avoid switching clefs because I find it harder to read.
    – Sam
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 23:42

2 Answers 2


Gould's guide to music notation Behind bars says the following (p. 325):

An octave sign applies to all parts on a stave. A note written with an octave transposition should not share a stave with a note to be played simultaneously at pitch (loco) if there is a feasible alternative layout. Transfer either the ottava or the loco pitches to another stave. If necessary, add a third stave for this.

Where there is not room for a third stave, the occasional octave-transposed note may be placed on the same stave as notes played at pitch, provided that the extent of octave transposition is made absolutely clear. For clarification, extend a dotted line vertically to encompass occasional octave-transposed pitches [...]

Thus, if the notes you showed were the only ones played at that time, you have (at least) two options:

  1. apply the ottava bracket to all notes under it, or
  2. move the bottom part into the bottom stave.

If these are not possible for some reason (e.g. because there is separate activity in the bottom stave for the left hand), you should either:

  1. use a vertical extension line¹ down from the ottava line, or
  2. use a third stave.

¹I tried to make an example of this, but it turns out to be pretty hard to convince Sibelius to do this. An example is given in Gould's book (p. 325).

from Gould p. 325 - 8va and loco notes on the same stave, with a vertical bracket


The 2nd version is correct. Maybe to make it look neater you could start the 8va sign on the 2nd beat (of course lowering the A and E quavers an octave on the page).

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