Problem with stem direction in voices

• Jan 23, 2015 - 19:04

Hello, all, I am a very novice songwriter with no formal training, but we do a lot of a capella singing in our church. We have hundreds of song books that we use. They all have the standard hymn arrangement using a treble clef and a bass clef, with two voices on each for four-part harmony. I am enjoying using MuseScore and my only frustration is with stem direction. In all of the music I am used to singing, the two voices on the treble clef will have stems pointing up (both voices) until they switch positions, e.i. voice 2 is a higher note than voice 1, at which point the stem on voice 2 would point down and the stem on voice 1 would point up to indicate which notes to follow in each voice. The same holds true in the bass clef, except that all stems point down unless they are switched in position. In MuseScore I am able to duplicate this in close harmony when each voice maintains its position simply by overwriting voice 1 with a second set of notes, but as soon as I need to give different rhythmic value to note on voice 2 from what I have given voice 1 I am forced to use the voice 2 option, which either inserts rests throughout the entire score for that voice, or if I write the second voice in its entirety all stems for that voice point down throughout the entire score. Have I explained my issue well enough? Is there a way around this so that the only notes with stems going opposite voice 1 is when the position of the voices are switched, usually just for a few notes before resuming their normal positions?

I apologize if my musical terminology is substandard, I'm a septic tank pumper by trade, not a composer, lol! Thanks in advance for all of your help.


As far as I'm aware it is pretty standard that in a closed score SATB arrangement (which is what you describe, 2 staves with 2 voices each) note for Soprano and Tenor have stems up, for Alto and Bass have stems down.
But you can select all Alto and Tenor notes (right-click one note, More..., same staff, same voice)and then flip the stems (using the 'x' shortcut).

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

I've tried that and all I end up with is two flags on an eighth note. I'm looking for the option to have the notes first two voices share the same stem and flag unless switched in position in the staff, at which point they would each get their individual, directional stems.

It's not a big deal really, if it's not possible that's fine. It just gives a lot more room in the system.

In reply to by SewerRat

I think I know what you are going through, I had the same problem when I first starting using MuseScore. You are using mostly voice 1 to create the notes/chords, and where they are all quarter notes they share stems. However, when you want to use eighths or other notes that are not the same durations between voices you end up with extra rests.

Two solutions:

1. Enter each part in a separate voice, flip stems to match. One trouble with this is when you need to have parallel eighths, then they must share the voice to share stems. Then you have extra rests in voice 2 to hide. The other trouble is the stem lengths may not always be long enough to touch the other voice notes and they will have to be adjusted.

2. Enter everything in the same voice 1, except where the parts diverge (different note lengths between voices), Then you enter each part in a separate voice, and hide the rests you don't need.

Each way has its uses, strengths and drawbacks. Once you get better at transcribing or writing in MuseScore, you will choose the method that works best for a particular measure.

In reply to by SewerRat

If you want the soprano and alto part to share stems as well as flags & beams, the most straightforward way to do that is to simply enter them as one voice in the first place. If you enter them as separate voices, then you will indeed get separate calculations stem length, flags, and beams. You could do that then hide the flags and beams or mark the notes stemless, but really, I think it's better to enter them as one voice to make sure the stem calculations properly account for the fact there are two notes on the stem.

If there are passages there the rhythms divergae, then you will need to split into two voices just for those beats, and then hide the voice 2 rests for the remainder of the measure, but that's no different form how piano or guitar msuic is written either.

If that doesn't help, please post the score you are having trouble with, explaining exactly where you are having trouble, and we can provide more specific advice.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

At is one example, not quite as the OP describes, there stemm direction depends on pitch, but it is all in voice 1, except for the few places where the rhythm differs.
Or this, my favourite:
And many more at

Anyway, when I transcribed them, I made trem 2 voices, Soprano and Tenor stem up, Alto and Bass stem down...
Only in some versions where space is really limited, like a sheet with several of them for the audience or an A5 songbook, I'd do it like in these examples.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

Hello, I tried to do this (right clicking on a mac buy using 2 fingers on trackpad or shift click) but I didn't see the 'More...' option come up. Is this different in the current, Musescore 3 version? I am also trying to have the stems facing the same way, like in a 1 voice part, but have some different rhythms to reflect in the different voices. I can manually change each 2nd voice stem, but I thought there might be a more efficient way. Thanks! (don't know if it adds anything but I attached an example)

Attachment Size
Double_stop_example.mscz 8.75 KB

In reply to by Stefni

No, the instructions I assume you are looking at were just a little incomplete. You need to first click "Select" from the menu that pops up, then you'll see "More" in the submenu.

Another way to go here would be to use View / Selection Filter to select by voice.

But - is there a reason you are doing this? The notation looks quite unclear and non-standard to me. Maybe it's something common in the violin world specifically?

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I looked several different examples and I see you are right, it is non-standard for the stems to coincide where the rhythm diverges. This is a an excerpt from a Pleyel Duo and that is how it is written a couple of arrangements that I was borrowing it from. I think it could be a little bit violin-specific because the rhythms of the two voices only really incidentally differ on account of the upper tone changing, the lower tones not and the two quarters being in a slur. In one edition of this duo the bowing is changed to 3 quarter notes per bow, and in that version the Gs are dotted halves with stems down (second voice style). So I guess that would be the more clear, more standard style. Interesting - I'd never noticed it before! Thanks!

Thank you all very much. I hadn't realized that you could hide rests. That sounds like a fairly easy fix. Practice makes perfect. Thanks again!

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