Notation when melody is not at top of chords?

• Dec 31, 2013 - 22:03

This is more of a general music notation question than it is about MuseScore per se, but MuseScore is the tool that I'm using, and my initial input creates overlapped notes between the two voices.

I'm doing an arrangement of Phil Collins' "Against All Odds" wherein the melody winds up sometimes being in the middle of the inverted chords. Long story short of the reason is in order to match my vocal range, without the chords being so low on the piano that the song sounds like mud.

This presents a number of notational challenges, as explained below and in the attached JPEG files. (NOTE: the song is played an octave below the notation):

Starting with the very 1st note (measure #3), obviously the A & B can't be together on top of one another. But, if I flip the A note head to the right, it looks backwards to me. The A should be on the left and the B to the right, correct? The stem of the 1/16 note though doesn't cooperate, and even when I do get them aligned (flipping everything upside down), the result is ambiguity re: whether the A and B are 1/16ths vs. 1/4s.

The next 1/4 note works out nicely, no issues there.

The 3rd 1/4 note has the ambiguity problem... the C is the melody and the only 1/16th in that chord, but I can't see how someone could tell that by reading it. On my 2nd file I remove the 16th note, which I find very hard to read in terms of understanding the musical flow of the melody within the chord -- which is of course important in order to bring out the melody properly when playing.

On the 2nd 1/4 note of measure #4, I have the overlapping note issue again. I can flip the F (1/4 note) note head to the left, but the result is very hard to read. As with the 3rd 1/4 note of measure #3, I could delete the 1/16 E and just add it as a 1/4 to the chord, but musically that's not what I want there... it should (based on what sounds good to me when adding in the melody, not based on the original score) be a 1/16th.

I knew it would be challenging to put the melody in the middle of the harmony, but this is more complicated than I had expected. I'm definitely a fish out of water on this one, because I don't know what is "correct", aside from that the overlaps that occur by default in MuseScore definitely won't work.

I've Googled this extensively (to find what it should look like when a melodic voice is in the middle of multiple notes from a harmonic voice) and have not found anything on the topic. Perhaps there is a technical term for this phenomenon that I don't know?

Anything I'm trying either looks confusing or doesn't properly convey the melody. Any input would be greatly appreciated!


What is this to be used for? If the accompaniment part has the melody simply as a guide, I might raise the melody an octave and note that or indeed place the part as you have notated is in front of a pianist..

If you are going to use this as an accompaniment for a solo voice, you don't need to duplicate that melody in the accompaniment generally. I just use a lead sheet (melody and chords for performance. It is much more difficult for a player to exactly reproduce notation and complete notation is usually used only when it is necessary (orchestras for example, or anywhere parts are exact).

In reply to by xavierjazz

It's for me to play and sing along. Unfortunately, I definitely need the melody to be repeated. I can't carry a tune in a bucket, so I need the piano to help me hit the notes. I'm not adept at using lead sheets (yet), so I'm trying to write it out as best I can.

I kept plugging away at Googling, and found a similar question in a Finale group: //

It's still a little fuzzy for me though. I'll have to study it a bit. At least I have some proper terminology to use now, such as "inner voice" and "crossed voices".

In reply to by aTallGuyNH

Great and that's okay.

When you say 'It's for me to play and sing along " do you mean to play it live, yourself on a "real" instrument as you sing it, or do you mean that MuseScore should "accompany" you?

Do you want to understand "classical notation", is that what you're asking?

I would suggest if it is for your own purposes, try to make it clear on the page for yourself. Whatever helps you is good.

In reply to by xavierjazz

Yes, I mean to play live, on my piano.

I would definitely like to learn the classical notation approach, whatever that may be. In the past when I've tried to come up with what makes sense to me -- vs. going with the tried and true -- I've invariably regretted it, realizing that many very smart people have put a lot of thought into this over the last few hundred years. :-)

In reply to by aTallGuyNH

All notation is an attempt to convey a musical gesture to someone else or another time. There are conventions and also those who devise beyond convention.

Since it is for your own use, place the information you need in a manner that helps you. Don't worry about being right.

At the same time there is nothing wrong with expanding your knowledge in any way you can. Don't hesitate to ask here. If we can we'll either help or not. :)

Keep playing, keep studying - you will find what you need as long as you are able to look for it.

Happy New Year.

In reply to by xavierjazz

Thanks for the encouragement xavierjazz. It's not that I'm worried about being right for its own sake, but rather that I can't (so far) see my way to a rational and consistent approach. If I don't have that, I won't be able to read it effectively, despite having notated it myself.

Although it has its limitations (in terms of differentiating note durations clearly), I do like jm6stringer's approach of aligning the stems. It creates a very clean looking score. I just don't yet know how to render it effectively in MuseScore, and I am still hoping there is a convention for this somewhere.

Happy New Year to you as well!

I have entered 2 measures into the score on the (topmost) voice staff. You can compare to measures 3 and 4 of the piano staff.
Copy and paste, make adjustments to beams, if necessary after copy/paste. Then you can delete the 2 measures of the voice staff.


Attachment Size
Adjusted score.mscz 9.77 KB

In reply to by Jm6stringer

Thanks for taking the time to look at this... I was so eager to check it out that I ponied up the $4.99 to get the Android app so I could open the file from my phone at a New Year's Eve party. :-)

I like what you did on the first measure. Will need to check out on the desktop to see how you did that exactly. On the 2nd measure, the app didn't render it properly (there's a floating note head in the middle) so will have to wait to see it on the desktop.

In reply to by Jm6stringer

On the 1st notes of the 1st measure, how did you accomplish that? I can see the 3rd voice there, but how did you get the stems to line up between the voices? I tried dragging the stems around and nudging the width of the beam, but I couldn't get it to line up quite right and it was very tedious... I'm assuming there is a more graceful/efficient way to accomplish this?

On the 2nd measure, I also had a little trouble getting it to look just as you have it. I managed to match the 1st quarter note, but on the 2nd I could get it close but then dealing with little details (stem sticking out beyond the beam -- either removing the stem or lengthening the beam) made it get jumbled up. If you can give me a quick jot down of the steps you took, that would be excellent.

It definitely looks a lot better than what I had at any rate. Even so, how does one differentiate which are the 1/4 notes and which are the 1/8 or 1/16 notes?

In reply to by aTallGuyNH

You wrote: 'how does one differentiate which are the 1/4 notes and which are the 1/8 or 1/16 notes?'
See attachment, which shows an additional rendering of the same measures, with more attention to voice separation.

To answer your questions:
If you double click on a notehead, you can use the arrow keys to nudge the note left/right. Then click elsewhere and the stem will follow the note.
for using 'Alt' and 'Ctrl' keys along with the arrow key for even finer movement of elements.

For stems sticking out beyond the beam:
If you double click on a beam, you can drag the handle of the beam to the end of the stem.

I had a look at that Finale forum you mentioned - and as you can see, there can be alternate ways of notation. Clarity of intention is the main goal when writing for others. For your own personal use, you can do what enables you to perform best (i.e. writing the melody 'inside' the accompaniment). For the few tricky situations where a note has to be placed on the other side of a stem, or notes of different durations are being played simultaneously, you may have to tweak the layout a little, but the capability is there.

Also, one important thing to remember in using voices is that rests in voices other than voice 1 can be deleted to simplify reading. Rests in voice #1 can only be made invisible - in the case where, for instance, the rest crashes into another voice.

Regards, and Happy New Year!

Attachment Size
Voices.mscz 3.91 KB

In reply to by Jm6stringer

Thanks again... I was aware that I could nudge things around, but I was stuck in a morass between not knowing how to do it very effectively and also being uncertain about what I wanted it to look like. Your "Voices" file was very helpful for seeing how it could be done, and I was able to successfully replicate what you have done (i.e. from scratch vs. simply copying and pasting).

Also, this has helped me to come up with the following as my basic guidelines:

1) Align the stems of multiple voices whenever possible
2) Separate the stems slightly when note duration differs between the voices
3) Maintain consistency with separated stems in the same order from measure to measure... i.e. for this score the pulse/harmony is on the left and the melody is on the right, simply because the melody is 16th notes.
4) Don't be afraid to show the same note twice (in order to highlight the melody) even when it should be played just once.

Guideline #3 is a little difficult to pull off effectively when the melody consists of a tied note of a different duration than the harmony, but so far I've been able to finagle it.

One more question... Is it possible to edit an entire chord? It appears that I can only edit/move one note at a time. Not the worst thing in the world, but it's a bit tedious and hard to get things to line up exactly. Wondering if I'm missing some trick to multi-selecting of notes in edit mode.

You might want to look at some published editions of Bach fugues or romantic era piano solo pieces where this woild probably come up pretty often. The standard technique as far as i have seen is to simply offset the middle note a little bit horizontally. In museScore, double click and move away from the stem until it barwly clears the other noteheads, then release.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Good to see this example.

I asked my father (a lifelong musician, composer, and retired music teacher) this same question, and he passed along a copy of "Teach Yourself the Art of Music Engraving: A Complete Manual, Reference and Text Book on Preparing Music for Reproduction and Print" by Ted Ross (1987). It has extremely detailed information on just about every aspect of notation engraving that one could imagine, and addressed this topic under the heading of "Passing Tones" on page 192.

Ross uses the terms "existing part" or "main voice" vs. "passing notes" where I have previously used "pulse" or "harmony" vs. "melody" respectively in my "Thanks again... I was aware" post above.

Here's the synopsis of Mr. Ross' suggestions:

1) Place the 1st passing note as close as possible to the "existing part".
2) Keep opposite facing stems back to back when possible.
3) When back to back stems would be too far apart from one another (examples: up stems with dotted notes and down stems with accidentals), only then have the passing tone precede the main voice.
4) When the passing tone precedes the main voice, the note head of the passing tone should come as close as possible to the main voice stem, without actually touching it.

I've attached a file illustrating a couple examples.

Ross doesn't address how to handle it when circumstances dictate the main voice stem be down and the passing tone stem up, but I'm assuming that the "stems back to back" rule would still hold sway. From there, the only difference is that the examples in #3 above would be the opposite -- up stems with accidentals, and down stems with dotted notes, would force the main voice to precede the passing tones.

Incidentally, although written only ~25 years ago, this book includes gems such as this...

"It must be emphasized that a ball point pen cannot make "engraved-looking" ties and slurs; consequently, it should not be employed by anyone sincerely interested in the profession."


One can develop a correct-looking tie by practicing with the compass. For best results, hold the compass in the right hand, and perpendicular to the paper. Place the first finger of the left hand across the needle for additional balance, as well as to avoid slippage.

Zoiks! It's easy to lose sight of how very fortunate we are to live in this day & age (and with the talents of all those who make MuseScore possible, gratis no less), until reading how it was done back in the day!

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