Voice and stem direction

• Apr 9, 2020 - 15:54

Is there a way to change the default stem direction of a voice? For example, in single stave notation for guitar voice 1 is always stems up and the bottom voice is always stems down.


No, you can't change the default stem direction, but nor would this be useful. The point is to choose the voice to fit the music. So use voice 1 for the notes you want to be stem up, etc. Or, in the cases where the voices dross, just keep using the voices consistently and the stem direction will be what alerts the reader that this has happened.

If you still have questions about how to use voices in MuseScore, please attach a sample score (or even just a relevant excerpt) so we can advise better.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Thank you both for the replies. For some reason the majority of notes I enter in voice 1 are stem down, not up. Since this is music for classical guitar I typically notate with the 8va bassa treble clef so that playback is the same octave as guitar which is notated an octave lower than pitch. Would this have an effect on default stem directions by voice. A score in progress is attached.

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ConTePartiroV040820.mscz 32.59 KB

In reply to by Dingalls0786

I think you are probably using voice 1 incorrectly if you are constantly wanting stem down notes in that voice. That should not happen much at all. Is there a particular measure in your attached score where you are concerned? First few measures I looked at had voice 1 stems up just as I'd expect. I would suggest, though, that the middle voice should probably have been entered in voice 4 rather than 3, if you want it stem down by default. No one ever said the voices other than 1 have to be used in order.

In reply to by Dingalls0786

Oh wait, maybe I understand: when you first enter the voice 1 notes, before you've entered anything else, the stems will be a mix of stems up & down depending on the pitch, according to the standard rules of notation. This is totally correct - if a measure has only one voice, its stems should follow those standard rules: notes on the top half of the staff have stems down, notes on the bottom half have stems up. So if you ever have a measure with only one voice, this will happen automatically and you shouldn't mess with it. But as soon as you enter anything into any other voice, MsueScore automatically flips all the voice 1 stems up, again in accordance with standard rules of notation. So you really should virtually never need to flip stems manually or need to override defaults at all, except maybe once in while with those inner voices 3 & 4.

I am new to Musescore today, and I have a question about stem direction. By convention, the soprano voice should have stems up, the alto voice stems down, the tenor voice stems up, the bass voice stems down. But the only one of these voices I am supplying in the harmony exercises that I am writing for my music theory students is the bass voice: they will supply the rest. But I need all of the notes in my bass line to have stems down.

I understand that if you use voices 1 & 2 the stems will do the thing. But why if you use all 4 voices are 1 & 2 not the top voices and 3 & 4 the bottom voices? Why is the order not 1-4, top to bottom? Why does it jump around?

In reply to by Lianna Pfister

The vast majority of music needs only 2 voices - one stem up, the other stem down. It seems more natural to use 1 & 2 than to have to always skip voice 2 and use voice 3 instead. But sure, it would have been possible to design it that way. We’d just have a lot more people wondering why they always have to skip voice 2.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Like I said, I understand that if you use voices 1&2 the stems will do the thing. Needing to skip 2 and instead use 3 does indeed seem ridiculous...and yet it's what you have to do with a fair amount of choral music. Why is voice 3 configured to go up? You'd think that if you start using 12&3, the order would arrange itself to make 2&3 go down, or at least make 3 go down. Instead, it's arranged to make 3 look like 2 and 2 look like 3.

In reply to by Lianna Pfister

Why would choral music ever need to skip 2 and use 3? That seems like it would be incredibly rare, in fact I can't think of any case where that would ever happen. Voices 3 and 4 are virtually never used unless 1 & 2 are both already used as well.

Anyhow, given that the 1 & 2 - the only voices most people ever need - are up and down, it seems only logical 3 & 4 should follow the same pattern. That's why pretty much every other program I've used does it similarly. Again, certainly it would be possible to design a program to buck the norm, but it would seem illogical to most people.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

The only reason to skip 2 and use 3 is because for a 3 or 4-part line, the program makes 3 look like the second voice part and 2 look like the third voice part, because of the stem direction. You'd still use 2, but not as the second voice part. A lot of choral music actually does use 3 parts in one line; what I'm working on occasionally splits into 4.
When only a single voice part is being used (part 1), the stems do not always point the same direction automatically. But as soon as you introduce voice 2, all the stems in voice 1 go up and all the stems in voice 2 go down. It would thus make sense to write the program in such a way that as soon as voice 3 is introduced, the stems in voice 2 also go up. At the very least, voice 3 should not be programed to point the stems up; when 4 voices is the maximum, you would never need the bottom voices to stem up.

In reply to by Lianna Pfister

If you have three voices on a single staff, something it's two up, one down, sometimes one up and two down, but I've literally never seen two up and none down. Hence my observation - the vast majority of music uses no more than two voices, and when there are two voices, it is virtually always up & down, so the first two voices used absolutely positively need to be up and down.

Yes, it would be possible for a program to force people to always use voices 1 & 3 instead of 1 & 2, but most people would find that extremely confusing. They are only writing two voices, why should they need voice 3?

And also, yes, it would be possible to have entering voice 3 change the meaning of voice 2, so that voice 2 starts out down as expected but then suddenly goes flips up upon entering voice 3. But I doubt most people would appreciate having their carefully-entered downstem notes in voice 2 suddenly flipping on them just because they decided to add a third voice. I guess you are thinking of scenario where there are three voices throughout the pieceand you wish to enter them in top-down order - an SSATB arrangement on two staves, say. But that's the only, or even the most common, use of three voices. In piano or guitar music, that third voice is as likely to be an inner moving line, for example, and it might only be used for only certain means, and only a part of the measure at that. It would be pretty much disastrous if you couldn't rely on already-entered stem directions staying where you put them as you edit that third voice.

In reply to by Lianna Pfister

Remember that you only need to use voice 2 (and 3 and 4) if you are using different note values/rhythm for the different parts. Even if you have two soprano and two alto parts in the same staff, as long as they all sing in the same rhythm, you should only use voice 1.

If you only need the four voices in a few places (like if the singers should do a "arpegio" type of thing), you can flip the stems manually (by pressing "x").

And if all four parts use different rhythms/note values for large parts of the piece, you should consider splitting the staff into an soprano staff and an alto part, and use voice 1 and 2 for both of them.

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