I have encountered the following slightly weird notation for three close-by notes intended to be taken together. However, in order to fit the sharp and double sharp accidental symbols at appropriate places, while keeping the key signature, that unusual (at least to me) split had to be drawn.

I wonder, how common is such notation in the first place, and if it is likely to be edited out / beautified somehow (how?) by an experienced editor. Is there a better way to write such a construct, while keeping clarity?

This is from Marc-André Hamelin's Cadenza for Liszt's Second Hungarian Rhapsody.

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  • 3
    I don't have a definitive answer at the moment, so this is a comment, but even though the stems are tilted, that notation would confuse me. I would recommend another notation, because this one is hard to interpret for first-time sight-readers.
    – user45266
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 3:51
  • 1
    Yeah, tilted note stems from the same point are normally used for chords.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 9:30
  • I've also seen this notation (for two notes rather than three) in the score for Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15 — the trombones have some juicy tone clusters in the second movement. Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 13:27
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    At first glance I'd have treated those as Fives (five consecutive notes in one beat), and have no clue how they are related to the improperly marked (missing rests?) lower line. So, thanks for a personal TIL. Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 13:36
  • 2
    conglomerate of accidentals would make for a great band name.
    – dwizum
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 18:07

4 Answers 4


This notation is orthodox, and at least common enough for an authority to mention it.

Gardner Read's "Music Notation," 2nd ed., p. 74, example 5-27 shows two instances of exactly this: a stem trifurcating to a cluster of three noteheads only a semitone apart, in his case E natural F natural F sharp, and D natural E flat E natural.


This is fairly standard notation. This is an "altered unison", a chord that includes two different variants of the same note (F-sharp and F-double-sharp in the example); there is no way to represent this with the conventional layout of a single stem. So one way or another, the stem has to be split -- here is a description from Steiner on the Dorico software.

Personally I think that the Liszt example is neater than the Dorico default, and in any event anyone sight-reading Marc-André Hamelin's attempt to make Liszt harder is not going to be a beginner.


Typographer here.

First, remember that typography has the rule that it's functional and beautiful. If you can't have both, you aim at the first. And functional means that the player understands the notation. And once you play Liszt, you're probably not a novice and should get this.

Second, it's generally considered a crime to change the author's pitch notation, but this would be much better written as E## F## G#, or even F# G Ab.

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    Do you really want to add an Ab to something this full of #'s and ##'s? Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 16:49
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    @CamilleGoudeseune yes. (Did you exect a "no"?) Check any baroque music, it does it all the time. This is a tough place and you'll never make it really easy to read. You have to make compromises and the question is, where do you make them.
    – yo'
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 17:15

It's not necessary to have three stems. The G# can share a stem with the F# or the Fx (as in your example's last two clusters, leaving the Fx or the F# to use a slanted stem. One way to position the stems is for the stem with more notes to be vertical and the other stem slanted enough to make room for the accidental. Another way is to slant both stems -- this means that they don't have to be slanted so much. The result is I think still ugly, because there are two stems, but not as ugly as having three stems.

  • To me this doesn't look ugly - it looks funny and original :) Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 14:56

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