For piano (and I assume other instruments where one can play multiple notes at the same time as a chord, and one of said notes can be emphasized more than the others), sometimes there is a melody line that is played within chords, so tenuto marks are included to indicate that one note from each chord should be emphasized because it's part of the melody line. But how do you know/indicate which note within a chord should be tenuto-ed? The tenuto mark is always above or below the chord, but how does one indicate which note within, say, a 3- or 4-note chord should be emphasized? Do you just have to know, or is there a way to notate this?

There's a similar question here, but it doesn't address the question of tenuto use specifically.

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    Does this answer your question? How to notate that a specific note be underlined in a piano chord? May 1, 2020 at 7:23
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    I think you should derive the melody of the motifs in the context, (what was previous, what follows?) May 1, 2020 at 9:44
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    I just want to say that this is an extremely dubious thing to write. Bringing out a melody hidden inside chords is very tough to do, and I don't think I've ever seen anything like this in any kind of serious piano music.
    – MattPutnam
    May 1, 2020 at 15:26
  • I agree with MattPutnam. I've never seen it in serious music. Staccato yes, but not tenuto. The only way to play it would be to shorten the other notes a little, or anticipate the marked ones slightly. In either case that should be written explicitly. Or, using two voices (the same size!), the notes of the melody could have a slur over or under them. May 2, 2020 at 5:17

2 Answers 2


You could write the chord with two voicings, by changing stem directions (and slight horizontal displacement when necessary):

chords with two voicings

re: comment
I haven't seen this done with tenuto marks, but I have seen a similar thing done with staccato marks.
The following arrangement has complex voicings (and mixed articulation) for the right hand of harpsichord (the middle stave).

Shall I Go Walk the Woods so Wild, - showing It's from "31 Pieces of the 16th-18th Centuries" - for descant recorder and piano (harpsichord), by Carl Dolmetsch:

  • This happens to be exactly how it's being done in the piece of music I'm currently learning, and thinking back on other pieces I've learned in the past I believe this is the most common technique I've seen, so I'm marking it as the answer. Do you have more resources on voicing with regards to notation? I'd never heard of it being used as a notational term--only in terms of playing. I know the 2 are connected, but the notational side is new to me.
    – Yohan P
    May 1, 2020 at 14:29

I've seen both of these used. I prefer the second.

enter image description here

  • Cool! I don't think I've ever seen it done the 2nd way, and if I had seen it before now I know I would've been scratching my head over it, so thanks for educating me. I believe I've seen it the 1st way before, but my understanding was that the regular sized note is the "real" note while the smaller ones are played more quietly, whereas with a tenuto the indicated note is to be played more prominently than all other notes played on the same beat. The difference is subtle but there.
    – Yohan P
    May 1, 2020 at 14:22

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