I am trying to play a song with two voices and something is not adding up in the time signature.

In the image below:

enter image description here

in the first measure, I see a half note rest (circled in red in the upper left) which counts as two quarter notes.

I am not sure if the 1/8 note rest that follows (also circled) is part of that voice but either way the half note rest and the triplet count as only 3 (or 3 and half if you include the 1/8 note rest).

How do I count the upper melody in the first measure?

  • 2
    Not a duplicate, necessarily, but also see Rest above a note in a piano piece. Feb 27, 2020 at 13:12
  • 5
    Where is that triplet you mention? It looks like a quaver rest followed by 3 more quavers. There's no -3- over the 3 quavers, so it's not a triplet.
    – Neil
    Feb 27, 2020 at 16:51

2 Answers 2


In the first measure, the upper melody is a half-note rest, followed by an eighth note rest, then three eighth notes, which add up to 8 eighth notes. Those three eighth notes are not a triplet, but simply eighth notes. A triplet would have a "3" indicated above the beam joining the eighth notes.

The lower melody is the dotted half-note triad, followed by the lower eighth-note rest (on the word "the"), then the eighth-notes A and D, also adding up to 8 eighth notes.

So the counting of the upper melody is (1 + 2 + 3) + 4 +.

By the way, "voicing" usually refers to the notes within a chord (vertical), not the notes within a melody (horizontal).

  • 2
    So would you refer to them as multiple voices* (edited in question)?
    – Startec
    Feb 26, 2020 at 21:53
  • Yes, each melody is a "voice". A chord with three notes is three simultaneous "voices". The first measure is really 4-part harmony. But you can think of it conceptually as two voices, since three of the voices don't do anything independent of each other (and then one of them drops out). Feb 26, 2020 at 21:56
  • I know that the notation is unambiguous, but is there a particular reason that the three notes are beamed together instead of breaking apart to show the location of beat 4? (why is the 'and of 3' beamed to '3')
    – user45266
    Feb 27, 2020 at 2:25
  • 1
    It would be correct either way; but one of several common practices is to beam the 8th notes in each half of a 4/4 bar together (as is done on the bass line in your excerpt) rather than only in each beat of the bar. Feb 27, 2020 at 6:45
  • 1
    @Startec It's up to a bit of interpretation but the upper voice remains, while the lower voices go from three notes in the first D major triad, to only two notes after that. I would argue that the lowest voice (starting on F#) drops out, since that would mean that the voices on D and A in the first chord both leap down an octave to D and A for the next entrance. There are four simultaneous voices sounding on the "+" of 3. Feb 28, 2020 at 20:40

The other answer correctly describes how the notes and rests in each "voice" or "layer" of the music add up, but there is a simpler practical way to read things like this.

In the left hand, you have eight equal length notes. When notes are stacked vertically above each other, they should be played together. That is enough to tell you when to play the right hand notes, without having to work out exactly why the rests are written the way they are.

The notation of piano parts like this can get messy, and often the music is not written with pedantic accuracy if that would get in the way of reading it easily. But unless the notation is really terrible (and in that case, the only option may be to guess what it means!) notes played at the same time point will always be stacked vertically, or as close to that as is possible without the notes colliding with each other.

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