I am currently working on transcribing an old SATB score (circa 1920) and I came across a type of note for which I have no name. It is the same size as a grace note, but it has a full note value, is unconnected to either the tenor or bass parts (at least visually), and is the fifth of the chord (I have read that grace notes often provide leading tones for the main note). I am thoroughly confused by this and am stuck in researching it, mostly because I have no name for it. What is this called, and what does it musically represent?

single half-note chord with small note also in the chord

  • I don't think that's a grace note - small notes can serve other functions besides being a grace notes. Is this a work for just chorus, or is there a piano/band/orchestra accompaniment part? Small notes are sometimes a cue to let one part know what the other instruments are doing. – Peter Feb 11 at 21:07
  • I completely agree; I apologize for not being clearer - I simply meant it had the same size and appearance (in most ways) to a grace note. The piece (The League of Nations Anthem) is for a chorus, and is one of many versions of the score, though I only have this and a piano / vocal score. From the context I have, it appears this version was intended to be performed solely with vocalists. At the same point in the piano score, the same chord is present without the fifth or this strange note. – DW42 Feb 11 at 21:16

Looks to me as an alternative suggestion for the tenor part. Could be interesting to see more of the score.


The score may be seen at the Library of Congress. I agree with Lars Peter Schultz's suggestion that this is an optional divisi in the lower voices.

The fact that the note is smaller is what indicates that the note is optional. The upward-pointing stem does normally indicate that the note should be sung by the second tenors, but it would be more normal for it to be sung by the first basses, for considerations both of range and of voice leading. It might even make sense to divide the tenors and basses equally there, having 1/3 each of the basses and tenors sing the D. In practice, the decision would depend on the singers in the ensemble.

That there is nothing making this explicit is perhaps a bit puzzling, but you might also see it as an instruction from the arranger to do whatever works best for your group.

There are other optional alternate notes in the bass part, beginning with the last note of the next-to-last system, and continuing through the end of the following measure. These, however, are different, since they are below the regular-sized bass notes and share their stems with them. Still, the performers will have to decide whether it is an optional divisi or an optional lowering of the part by an octave.

There's also a bass divisi near the end of the verse, on the downbeat of the third measure at the top of the second page. In this instance, interestingly, none of the notes are smaller (despite the fact that the voice leading for the first bass is perhaps somewhat awkward).

  • The score says that a single sex group should sing the top two lines an octave lower or the bottom two lines an octave higher (as appropriate). At this point the second part - lower one on the top line - would be singing the same note as the third part - higher one on the bottom line - and I think this is an alternative note for that arrangement of voices. – JimM Feb 11 at 23:20
  • @JimM it's possible, but even in a mixed group there is no fifth in that chord without the alternate note. Given the explicit note about how to manage the piece with a single-sex ensemble, I would expect them to mention that note if its sole purpose was to be used in that context. To me it seems more like "there's no fifth here, and if that bothers you, you can use this note." It's also not the only place where those two parts are an octave apart (i.e., in unison when the tenor is raised or the alto lowered by an octave). – phoog Feb 11 at 23:25
  • @JimM the optional notes at the end of the chorus seem to support your hypothesis, since the high bass part would cross above the alto in a single-sex group. But, on the other hand, if that were their only purpose, it would not be necessary to continue them after the GP at the beginning of the last system. – phoog Feb 11 at 23:31
  • @phoog Yes its not at all clear really is it. Seems strange to me that they have not put a comment somewhere to explain it. – JimM Feb 12 at 9:02

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