I'm puzzled by the bar ringed in red from a piece for Celtic harp (La danseuse T'ang, in Images de Chine, by Monique Grabus). enter image description here

There are two sets of beams, and every note has both an upward stem and a downward stem.

My harp teacher advises me to play it as a phrase flowing between the hands, which works fine; but I thought that would be notated like this: enter image description here which is much simpler.

Is there a specifically French convention? or have I misunderstood what's intended?

The harp convention, as i understand it, is that notes to be played with the right hand are on the upper stave, which is why the E fourth from end of bar is on the upper stave.

  • Why would the E, four from the bar end, be on the treble clef? It would maybe be tidier written on a leger line on the bass clef.
    – Tim
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 10:15
  • Big maybe, but could that be to emphasize that the piece is still in 6/8 time and should be played so instead of in 3/4 time or with some bizarre accent pattern?
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 16:15
  • @Tim Judging by where each note is on its stave, I guess that both staves are (already) in treble clef, with the upper stave for right hand and lower stave for left hand as jjmusicnotes implies in their answer.
    – Rosie F
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 8:42

4 Answers 4


You will notice that the beaming in the top and bottom is different. The top beam groups the notes depending on which hand is used - first left, then right, then left (4 notes, 5 notes, then 3 notes). The bottom beam indicates the desired phrasing. Very subtle I must admit, but that's the only reason I can see for this being written in such a way.


At first glance this can be puzzling, and people mentioning phrasing are on the right track, but the answer here is a bit more specific: the up-beams and down-beams indicate hand allocation as well as clarifying the metric subdivision for that measure. In this instance the hand allocation subdivides the measure from 6+6 to 4+5+3. The center beams indicates original metric subdivision (showing the measure divided into 2 equal parts of 6 16ths; the likely time signature here being 6/8.)

This was likely done because either the composer, engraver, editor, or publisher felt that the music would have not been as clear. I have not seen this notation much, so it may be specific to this editor/publisher/engraver/composer.


There are three beam groupings here. The lower grouping indicates what to play with the left hand, the upper grouping indicates what to play with the right hand, and the middle grouping indicates the musical phrasing to use, namely two groups of 6 notes (never mind how this is distributed among hands).

Personally I think it would have been much clearer leaving out both upper and lower beam grouping: after all, that's what happened in the measures before.

Maybe the software then refused attaching fingering to the correct hands or something.


The stem directions can also be used to indicate which of four parts harmonies are being expressed, soprano, alto, tenor and bass.

Perhaps the software program printing the notation got confused and used this notation when it wasn’t warranted. I

  • It don't recognize, how that answer matches a harp solo score.
    – guidot
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 10:35

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