enter image description here Here is an image of the notes in question, I've copied the specific part of the sheet music that is confusing me and made it in Illustrator because musicScore and NoteFlight are more headache than they are worth so apologies that it's a bit off.


It's 4/4 and Treble clef

E,D played together as a second. The E is 1/4 note and the D appears to be a whole note. Thats not too diffcult, but what flips the script is that the D is used again in the same bar!?

How does this work? If the first D is played to the count of 4, how can anymore D notes fit in that with out playing 2 seperate D notes? and if that's the case how can I play the first D note for 4 beats?

A similar thing happens in the second bar with the middle C.

So the question is how long do you play the first D in the first bar and the first middle C in the second bar?

The music is To the Stars from DragonHeart.

  • Possible duplicate of What do multiple notes on top of each other in a staff mean? Jun 24, 2019 at 12:58
  • 1
    I think this is a duplicate, but I wonder if that's the best sample to link to. I'll keep looking on my end.
    – Richard
    Jun 24, 2019 at 13:45
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    @DaviebPrime I agree with you that that question isn't the same as yours, which is why I didn't mark it as a duplicate. Sorry, I didn't mean to belittle your question at all. It's a good one, and important. And perhaps it isn't a duplicate, based on my failure to find the question that it's a duplicate of! :-)
    – Richard
    Jun 24, 2019 at 14:43
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    Possible duplicate of Why is there two notes in a row with more beats than the measure?
    – jdjazz
    Jun 24, 2019 at 16:46
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    @DaviebPrime, I strongly agree with you that the first question Carl found is not a duplicate of your Q, and I agree wholeheartedly with Richard about the importance of your Q. I do think it has been asked before on this site. (See the Q I found, above--maybe this is what Richard had in mind.) The challenge is making that prior question easily searchable. If you have thoughts on how to edit the title, body, etc. so the Q is easier to find in a search, they are very welcomed! It's perfectly reasonable for you to disagree with Carl, but personal digs about being paid, etc. aren't constructive.
    – jdjazz
    Jun 24, 2019 at 17:20

2 Answers 2


This has cropped up many times, and is probably answered elsewhere on this site.

There are effectively two voices here. The tails up constitutes the upper (soprano) voice, and the semibreves make up a separate voice (alto).

So the soprano voice has the correct number of beats, making 4, while the lower D and C notes last the whole bar each. Play the D with the E in 1st bar, and C with the E in the next. Hold lower note while the bar lasts - not with the pedal, though.

It's not written well, as without two instruments (or two manuals), it doesn't mak a lot of sense. One can guess that it means you to play the 1st D, then the 2nd, but hold that one through the bar. Same idea for the second bar. Hold the C, then play it again on the semis. They're quick enough not to bother holding that 2nd C. It's probably re-written from a score, where other instruments play the second part, but written by someone who didn't understand the restrictions of playing it on a piano. It would be possible on a guitar, for one player, as the same note can be played on two different strings.

  • How does one hold the lower note for the entire bar and play the lower note again in the same bar?
    – user61609
    Jun 24, 2019 at 11:16
  • Must read questions thoroughly before answering! Edited accordingly.
    – Tim
    Jun 24, 2019 at 11:31
  • Ahh, Thank you! so it's not just my own stupidity. It's obviously not very common as, when going through all my sheet music this notation does not occur anywhere else and for the life of me I could not think of a way to word this question on a google search! –
    – user61609
    Jun 24, 2019 at 12:36
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    Should have tried 'rubbish publishing'...
    – Tim
    Jun 24, 2019 at 12:39
  • Maybe it's me, but I see this quite often in guitar sheet music, especially from the baroque area. For the first measure, the whole note D would (probably) be played on the 5th string, 5th position, with the pinky, the other notes on the 4th string. The 2nd bar is pretty much not feasible, without plucking the same C again, but it's quite commonly notated that way. It's just an indication of what the intention is, that bass & melody overlap, and to keep voices consistent on their own. not playing the C (because "it's already sounding") is definitely not the way to go. Am I missing something? Jun 24, 2019 at 17:34

This is a situation that is quite often encountered in part writing for keyboard. One should not forget that in its highest form the piano - for example - is a multi-voiced instrument.

Here the performer 'fakes' it to a certain degree holding the whole note throughout the bar re-sounding the note when the alternate voice demands it. The performer conceptualises two independent voices in mind and 'shapes' the voices accordingly. On the piano the whole note D and C would be played with greater volume than the quarter D to ensure that it carries throughout the bar. Similarly the whole note C would be played more loudly the sixteenth C in bar two. One would aim to play this sixteenth C with much less strength. Any keyboard player with moderate level of skill would be able to do this.

As with much of keyboard playing the overall effect in one of illusion...

  • Ah ok ok. So do you play the E with the strengh of the first D or the second?
    – user61609
    Jun 24, 2019 at 16:53
  • Only experimentation and your ear can be your guides. There are a number of variables to consider but the aim is to convey to the listener than there are two independent parts at work
    – KammO
    Jun 24, 2019 at 23:02

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