Say I wanted someone to play a C major triad in the 4th octave at one point in a song I've written, while I wanted them to play the same chord (a C major triad) in the 5th octave instead of the 4th at a later point. Is there a way to notate this when writing a chord progression out, not just writing music?

An example progression in the type of notation I'm using is: C/G/Am/F/C/G/Am/F (in this progression I'd want to specify the first C chord as being played with the root note starting in the 4th octave while the second C chord as being played with the root note starting in the 5th octave)

3 Answers 3


With chord symbols alone, no. Chord symbols are not designed to show exact voicings of chords. The most they can show is inversion which is denoted by a slash.

Typically when voicings must be exact, a more detailed notation will be used like in sheet music or tablature.

  • ...Or possibly a chord window?
    – Tim
    Jul 4, 2019 at 6:50

You can't really specify a certain octave for chord symbols.

The easiest reason is probably, that different octaves mean different things to different people.

Some people see C3 as middle C, and some see C4 as middle C. So even if you would specify, that you want the root of the chord to start on C4 and later on C5, there would be people who still play both chords an octave lower than you intended.

So if you would like them to play it exactly as you want it, there's basically no other way than notating it within a staff.

However, if you have no other option and are forced to make it clear with chord symbols, I would just write C(8va) on the second C chord. Normally you use 8va to show that people have to play the notes one octave higher than written on the staff. So even tho they still don't know the octave of the first C chord, they at least should get that they have to play the second C chord an octave higher than the first one.

  • Never seen C4 as anything except middle C.
    – Tim
    Jul 4, 2019 at 6:51
  • 1
    Tim, even though C4 is becoming the standard, there are multiple companies and groups using others designations for middle C, for instance Yamaha and the makers of Cakewalk. pgmusic.com/forums/…
    – yamex5
    Jul 4, 2019 at 12:11
  • @user3235 -- there is no confusion among musicians about what middle C is. In any case, I don't see how this would explain why chord symbols can't specify octaves; if octave ambiguity were an issue for chord symbols, it would also be an issue for staff notation, but it is not.
    – user39614
    Jul 4, 2019 at 13:35
  • @DavidBowling Andy was making the claim that different manufactures and groups have specified other labels than C4 for middle C, and I confirmed that with a citation, not to mention I have two Yamaha keyboards that list middle C with C3. I agree that there is no confusion among musicians because on each instrument, it is clear which note is middle C. It's also not an issue for staff notation because there are no real alternatives to standard notation (excluding microtonal) for pitch representation.
    – yamex5
    Jul 4, 2019 at 13:45
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    @user3235 -- My point was that, if middle C is interpreted to be C3 by some players, then two players will play the same piece of music in two different octaves; this undermines the proposed solution of using staff notation and 8va for clarity. I suppose this only holds true if you take, e.g., the first ledger line below the treble clef staff to be middle C; if you take it to be C4 you are safe from confusion (unless you play a transposing instrument). But in 40 years of playing with other musicians, middle C has always been middle C on an 88 key piano, no matter the instrument.
    – user39614
    Jul 4, 2019 at 13:57

If you're just making notes to yourself to remember the accompaniment of a song, you could invent a system. Personally, I use "i" and "!" to mean that the bass goes higher or lower, respectively, than one might think (e.g. Ami or B7/D#!!).

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