Two questions:

  1. Why in Debussy's Arabesque No. 1, are the first two measures written without the rests? What's the rule?

    A single melody line drifting across the staves of a grand staff, without any rests in the vacated staff

  2. If I write notes in different clefs and beam them together, what clef will they belong to? I mean, in programs that I used (such as MuseScore and Sibelius), you cannot do this. Still, you can write notes in one clef, beam them, and send some of them to another clef, and this is the only way you can do cross-staff beaming. But the problem is if, for example, I input the notes in the bass clef (let's say G2-Bb2-D3-G4) beam them and then send G4 to a treble clef, the notes are beamed and look how I want. However, that G4 that I sent still belongs to the bass clef and the programs add unnecessary rests from both sides. How to deal with it?

    A grand staff. The upper voice is rests that fill the top staff. For the first half of the measure, the lower voice is beamed notes in the bottom staff that cross to the top staff. In the second half, the lower voice is rests in the bottom staff.

  • You can actually do cross beaming in Musescore.
    – Divide1918
    Commented Aug 22, 2021 at 9:55

2 Answers 2


Yes, when a musical phrase crosses staves it's conventional to leave out the extra rests.

At present, in Sibelius at any rate, you just have to manually hide the unwanted rests.

Here's what Gould has to say on the subject.

From Behind Bars, pp. 317–318:

Single-line passage-work

When a single line of passage-work is to be divide between the hands, allocate notes on the system as appropriate for the hand distribution. As long as it is clear when the beats fall, it is acceptable to use rests only as part of the single line, placing them on the stave of the surrounding notes (see following example (a), p. 318).

Where there is a double-stemmed group, place the rest according to its position within the beat. At the beginning and end of a subdivision of a beat, place the rest on the same stave as the remainder of the subdivision, in order to clarify which beat the rest refers to (b); when the rest comes in the middle of a beat, place it on the stave of the note it precedes (c):

Three example of melodies represented as a single voice on a grand staff, the part moves between both staves. (a): Rests appear with notes on either side. (b): Rests appear on the staff with the notes that make up the rest of the beat subdivision. (c): Rests in the middle of a beat appear on the staff such that that they precede the following note.

(See also examples under Slurs across two staves, p. 321.)

Rests that make up the beginning and end of a beat need appear on one stave only, beside the remainder of the beat (a). However, for clarity rests may be added to both staves (b):

Two examples of the same melody represented as a single voice on a grand staff, the part moves between both staves. (a): Rests appear only on the staff with a following note. "or" (b): Rests appear on both staves simultaneously.

Whole-beat rests are best duplicated on both staves to clarify the position of other beats:

Two examples of the same melody represented as a single voice on a grand staff, the part moves between both staves. The melody changes staff, but whole beat rests appear on both staves. "rather than" Notes and rests appear on one staff at at time.

  • @Laurence - for accessibility reasons, we always want text, rather than an image.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 9:43
  • Yes, in this case I guess the text is pretty comprehensive, the music examples merely illustrative. Thanks for transcribing it. But ALWAYS? In this forum a music example will often be the complete answer!
    – Laurence
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 18:06
  • 1
    Sorry, poor choice of wording on my part - where there is text, we always want it as text, not in an image. The music, obviously, is posted most easily as images.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 9:15
  • My point was about instances where the information was specifically in the notation, any text being merely incidental. 'Do this <picture> not this <picture>' It can happen in musical questions. A pedantic point, perhaps. But we ARE pedantic here!
    – Laurence
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 20:45

The only "rule" is that the notation should be as clear as possible. In the Debussy example, it's very clear that there's one monophonic line that meanders across both staves (and therefore, both hands). Omitting the rests helps clarify the line a little bit. You might also see examples where a second voice within one staff starts midway through the bar, but the engraver chooses not to show the rests that "should" buffer it out, instead relying on vertical alignment for clarity. In a way, rests only need to be there for accounting purposes, and if the accounting can be accomplished in other ways, less ink on the page can be cleaner.

Your software will insist on having the rests for accounting, at least internally. You'll need to select the rests and make them invisible. I'm not very familiar with Sibelius or Musescore, but in Finale it's the "show/hide" option (hotkey 'h').

  • Just out of interest, would pianists prefer a single-staff version with the correct hand to use marked over each set of notes? Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 13:25
  • No, piano always needs to be two staffs. It's plenty easy to read a line that crosses between staffs.
    – MattPutnam
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 17:56

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