OT question about singers

I am working on a musical score that along from it’s cast of characters also has at times an onstage chorus. It somewhat appears to be a standard SATB chorus, with each voice getting it’s own staff. In the voices, Alto for instance, there are times that there are diads being sung (F and A, for instance). So a split part of sorts. If it was a violin part, I believe you would see stems up for one voice, stems down for the other. I started doing this, and realized that stems down could interfere with lyrics…

So, is it common to group the voices together in one stem, or would it make better sense to split the stems?


As far as opera is concerned, I know that tenors 1 have their own part, tenors 2 their own, and so on for sopranos, altos, baritones and basses. It might be useful to add some “players” here so that when you need to print the separate parts, each voice has its own part ! It takes room in the full score but might save you some time and trouble later. What do real engravers — I am yet only a real singer :wink: — think ?

Robby, the key factor here is polyphony. If they’re moving in homophony, then keep them stemmed together. If there is polyphonic movement or any rhythmic variation (e.g., half-note for alto 1, dotted quarter-eighth for alto 2) then split them up at least for those beats. No sense clogging up the score with downstems if the two voices are working together.

Hi Robby, if you don’t have a copy of Elaine Gould’s book “Behind Bars” I would highly recommend buying it. It is a fantastic resource for these kinds of questions.

Basically what Tony said. Reading the score as a singer is easier if you split the stems up and down for each voice. So if you have 2 alto voices in a row, the stems of alto 1 goes up, the stems of alto 2 goes down. Even if alto 2 sings higher than alto 1. Stems make it easier to follow the voice. At leat that’s what I’m used to after singing in choirs for nearly 2 decades.

Actually that contradicts Tony’s recommendation, and I agree with Tony (and Elaine Gould). There was another thread that touched on this very recently, and I can’t find it now.

I agree with Tony. I’ve worked in the choral field since 1989, and there’s been a shift over the years from SATB each on a separate line, to SA and TB on one staff each, which then creates problems with how to write multiple voices on one staff. It used to be much more common to have soprano stems up, alto stems down, and same for the men, but as Tony says, if they’re moving together rhythmically then they should share a stem. For sections where the parts are more independent, then of course you can switch to stems up/down. That’s what I’ve found easiest to typeset and read, in any case.

It really depends on the writing. I have edited many choral pieces over the years that I tried out in both closed and open score to compare. There are advantages to each. Particularly tricky in open score is when the composer intends for e.g. Sopranos & Altos to divide in 3 equal parts; then it’s easier for the middle people to follow their part without having to switch staves — but only if there’s a minimum of differing rhythms.

It also depends on how much rehearsal time you want to save. In your instance of separate staves per part, you shouldn’t have a problem with keeping the stems the same. In a closed score, these modern conventions of not splitting the stems are really not a convenience for singers, since the question will almost inevitably come up of how to divide (if it goes to three parts). Keep in mind that most singers spend most of their time reading from scores that were engraved 50+ years ago, so these kinds of shifts in style, while not really onerous, can slow things down.

Next question…

All of the voices I have used so far have key signatures, except for the baritone voice. Is this common practice that baritones don’t read with key signatures?


Here is the screen shot:
Screen Shot 2016-11-25 at 3.52.20 PM.png
What is odd for me, is that even with no key signature present, it tried acting like there was one. Every F natural I type in, it tried naming it E#.


No, it is not common practice at all ! Every kind of voice has the right to read with a key signature ^^

This is a bug in the voice instruments that we fixed very recently. The data for the old instrument types is incorrect in existing projects, but they’ll be OK in new scores. If you have existing scores that you need fixing up, zip them up and email them to me and I’ll do what I can to repair them.

PM-ing you the file now…


Guess .zip is not allowed in a PM. I’ll e-mail it now.