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There are two string parts in a piece I’m writing that use divisi, and I’m not sure how to write them correctly.

First, this violin section:

enter image description here

I want to make clear that all players should play sul pont. but that only half of them also play tremolo. Is the way I’ve instructed it correct? I added “ord.” to try and distinguish it from the trem. marking beneath, but I’m not sure it’s used correctly here.

Second, this split viola section:

enter image description here

The intention is to split the violas in three sections, have sections 2+3 play the staccatos, and have section 1 come in with the melody several bars later. Is this notated correctly?


UPDATE: I’ve changed the second example to the following:

enter image description here

(In the previous version I envisioned the violas (12 players) split into three coequal sections (4 each), but I’ve decided it’s better to keep half playing the melody (since it should stand out more) and the other half re-split for the staccatos (3 each).)

Is this better?

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    For the first example, I'd separate the staves. To be clear, you're going to want to show the exact difference. As it currently stands the directions to a performer would be very confusing. Other solutions that come to mind would be equally confusing, so it's just not worth it. For the 2nd example, the first viola section (melody) should just be labeled "soli" or however many violas you want playing that melody. The 2nd line should be just labeled "div.". Players will automatically split the notes accordingly. No "div." label means you want each performer to play both notes. – jjmusicnotes Oct 9 at 3:03
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    As 2nd example is currently written: you have marked that you want 1st viola part divided 3 ways, but played in unison. You want the 2nd viola part divided three ways. These directions are confusing. If you do not yet own a copy of Elaine Gould's Behind Bars, I highly recommend adding it to your library. – jjmusicnotes Oct 9 at 3:05
  • @jjmusicnotes Thanks for the feedback. Re: the second example, I’ve edited the OP with a new version that specifies the number of players for each section; is it clearer this way? (I’m not sure about using “soli” since that implies to “play in a soloistic manner” (Gould, Behind Bars) and that’s not the sound I’m going for. – Walter Oct 9 at 3:36
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    Re: "soli", was just an example since I obviously wouldn't know the proper context. Your updated example looks much clearer. Re: first example, I will amend my previous comment by saying that: in the score, you could likely get away with using a double notehead, labeling it "div. sul pont", and then labeling the bottom side of the staff "trem." with added tremolo articulation markings on the doubled notehead to be clear. In the score, you could leave this on one staff. In the parts, you would want to create two staves for that section. No matter what you do you will have questions. – jjmusicnotes Oct 9 at 13:24
  • Thanks for clarifying. Re: the first example, I wrote it that way based on how a similar instruction – “½ ord., ½ trem.” – appears in the Edward Scissorhands score published by Omni, and I tried to adapt it to my own score where the same split happens, but with both playing sul pont.. I’ll give the double-noteheads trick a try, see how it looks. Thanks again. – Walter Oct 9 at 18:29
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The first example is fine IMO. If you split the staves and write a tremolo on one staff only, most likely you get a question in rehearsal about whether the trem is missing on the other staff! If you want to do it that way, I would write "(senza trem.)" over the part without the tremolo, to preempt the rehearsal question.

The second one is confusing. You write "div a 3" but only two notes, and then another "div a 3" later. In your revised version, you don't split the section into equal sized groups of players, but let's assume that originally you did want three equal groups.

Write "div a 3" at the start of the passage, and mark the bottom staff "2.3." to make it clear which groups should play it. Mark the top staff "1." where the notes start. You don't need the second "div a 3" marking.

The third example is fine, but it is common to write "6 soli" instead of "6 players". Of course if you are writing other performance instructions in English, "6 players" would be consistent with that. Note that "6 soli" does not mean "everybody should play like a soloist." A literal translation of the Italian would be "only 6 players"

If there are more than 12 viola players (unlikely, but possible in a very large orchestra) then a literal interpretation of two groups of "6 soli" means the others will play nothing. However, conductors, concert masters, and orchestra librarians routinely adjust this type of instruction to suit the actual numbers of players available, so don't worry too much about that. In the instrumentation list at the start of the piece, you should say "Viola (12 players)" if that is the exact number you are writing for, as an advance warning.

  • Thanks for the feedback. Re: the second example, I did want three coequal subdivisions in the first version, but I changed my mind in the second version. Indeed, I’m written the section sizes at the beginning of the score (“Viola (12)”) for clarity’s sake. Thanks also for the tip on the “2.3.” / “1.” player markings, I wasn’t sure how to notate that if I had wanted to divide them that way. – Walter Oct 9 at 18:46
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First example: I think it's fine as-is. It's an unusual thing to ask for, so writing it out explicitly is appropriate. You could split into two staves, and as someone else said it will reduce confusion to write (senza trem.) or (non trem.) on the non-tremolo part. If you leave it combined, I'm not sure about using 1/2 to indicate each split; I've used 1. and 2. several times and never gotten any confusion.

Second example: I don't like dictating a specific number of players. Not every string section has exactly 12 violists. And I think that div. a3 implies that it should be three equal groups. My suggestion is to write something like 2 equal groups where the part splits into two staves, and then write a simple div. on the lower staff.

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    I got the idea to use “½” from the Edward Scissorhands score published by Omni, where the instruction “½ ord., ½ trem.” appears on single staves at points. I tried adapting it for my own needs here by adding “sul pont.” to both. For the violas, I’m not writing for any real ensemble (though Hollywood composers frequently specify exact section sizes), so I take the liberty of dictating the exact player counts in my scores. As for the divisi, I’ve edited the OP to clarify that I’ve changed the split from 3 coequal sections (4 each) to the melody having 6 players and 3 each for the staccatos. – Walter Oct 9 at 18:35

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