I'm learning the song shown. How are these chords meant to be played? Are the chords shown in the middle stave (treble clef) meant to be played by the left hand? How does one tell this from the notation?

Edit- To clarify, in which hand should I play the chord in red?

in which hand to play the chord in red

  • Hmmm, Ulf and I are answering two different questions. Did you mean to ask how to play the "Gm" floating above the treble staff or the actual notation in the staff?
    – Babu
    Sep 1, 2012 at 15:28
  • :-) I interprated "the upper stave" as meaning the song stave. I now see "the other question" and for this I totally agree with Babu that the notated chords go in the right hand. The different stem directions are there to indicate the melody as a separate voice from the accompaniment. Sep 1, 2012 at 17:33
  • The chord markings could be intended to help other musicians (e.g., a rhythm guitarist) while the top treble clef is the melody. The lower treble and bass cleff are the accompaniment, and ought to be right and left hand respectively on piano.
    – user28
    Sep 1, 2012 at 18:13
  • 1
    "When the air becomes uranious, we will all go simultaneous..." Tom Lehrer, excellent :)
    – NReilingh
    Sep 1, 2012 at 23:04
  • 1
    @ColonelPanic: I believe you should play the highlighted chord(s) with your right hand just as Babu answers! (Otherwise there would have been some textual indication that you should play it with your left hand.) Sep 3, 2012 at 12:45

2 Answers 2


The arranger probably wants you to play the chords in the right hand.

Generally, composers/arrangers and typesetters are pretty good at reserving the treble clef for the right hand and the bass clef for the left. With no other markings, this is what you would assume is intended.

Now, if they had intended to have the left hand jump, they would have put some sort of indication that it should be played with the left hand (the only one that comes to mind is from an old Debussy score, where it's indicated as m.g.--main gauche--left hand).

Additionally, the leaps between the melody and the lowest note in the chord are at most one octave, which is a comfortable reach for most pianists. An interesting thing to look for is that the chords often could be scored more clearly and with fewer ledger lines in the bass clef; this suggests that they went out of their way to score it in the treble clef, to clearly show that it should be played in the right hand.

This is just what struck me after looking at this small section for about 3 minutes. I'm interested to see if I've missed any other indicators of "handedness" in the scoring.

  • 1
    Left and right hand can be indicated by m.s.(left) and m.d.(right). These are the abbreviations of the Latin terms. Why do French composers always have to use there own language?!
    – 11684
    Oct 28, 2012 at 15:46

Note: This answer refers to the chord symbols ("Gm", "C7", "F", etc) found on top of the song staff. Colonel Panic's question was actually not about this, but about the notated chords in the upper piano treble staff. I'm leaving this here since it might help someone else.

The chord notations/symbols are merely provided as support, or for letting you make your own accompaniment.

So, either you play the two piano staves as they are written ignoring the chord notations (other than as a possible support in reading the written music), or, if you wish, you can ignore the written notes and make up your own accompaniment from the chord notations.
(The chords are already in the written piano staves, so -- no don't try to add them to the written music.)

The chord notations can also be useful for other accompaniment musicians, such as a guitarist, in playing along with you or as the sole accompanist, or for, say, a saxophonist providing backgrounds and embellishments to the singer and your playing.

  • +1 -- also, chord symbols can be used by pianists in lieu of reading the actual music. Some prefer to improvise their own accompaniments.
    – NReilingh
    Sep 1, 2012 at 23:07

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