One question I often get is how to notate two parts on a single staff.  This is often necessary in orchestral scores, most commonly when placing multiple wind player parts (such as two oboes) on a single staff.  It is also necessary in divisi string passages when the divisi parts are on a single staff.  In this post, I thought I’d go through a few examples showing this notation.

In these situations, the two parts should be broken into separate “voices”.  Each voice should have enough beats to complete the measure.  The top voice should be written “stems up” and the bottom voice should be written “stems down”.


Let’s look at some quick examples.


In the example below, two oboe parts are notated on a single staff.  The top part is for oboe player 1 and notated “stems up”.  The bottom part is for oboe player 2 and notated “stems down”.



Without using separate voices, these parts would have to employ a creative and less-than-elegant use of ties.  Something like the notation below…  (This solution is very difficult to read and should never be used.)



It’s important to note that, when using voices, both voices must have enough beats to complete the measure.  In the previous example, both voice 1 and voice 2 had four beats per measure.  If rests are needed in a voice, then they should be notated above or below the staff.



Notably, it is possible for the two parts to be in unison.  In this instance, the two voices share the same notehead but retain the “stems up” and “stems down” system.


In the example below, the two oboe parts are briefly in unison on beat 3.



Using voices is one way to indicate that only one of the players should play.  In the example below, player 2 rests while player 1 has a part.



Using voices is most important when the two parts have different rhythms.  When the parts have the same rhythm, it is acceptable to notate the parts with one voice—using one stem direction.



One last, but important note…  These techniques should be used in the conductor’s score only and not in the player’s parts.  In the case of the individual parts, only the part specific to that player should be included.  So oboe player 1 will receive a part notating only the oboe 1 part, and oboe player 2 will receive a part notating only the oboe 2 part.  This removes the need to use voices to separate the individual parts.

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    Thanks for sharing this!!

    Very interesting, I’m learning thank you very much
    for your tip.

    Thanks for sharing this Master!

    Marcelo Rocha

    This was very helpful, thank you.


    Great explanation! Makes score notation transparent.

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