Correct way to handle parts

• Aug 8, 2015 - 14:02

On the Young Composer's Challenge web site (, I found these directions for preparing a score:

In scores for full-orchestra, it is preferable to combine like instruments on a single staff such as Flute 1 & 2, or Clarinet 1 & 2. This reduces the number of staves needed on the page and thereby allows each staff to be larger and easier to read. Never combine more than two instruments on a single staff.

When two instruments are combined on a single staff and there is a single line to be played by the first player only, indicate "1.” (1 with a period) just before the first note of that passage. This is short-hand for "1st". To indicate that the part is to be played by the second player only, indicate "2." To indicate that the part is to be played by both players, indicate "a2" (no period).

In the individual parts, each player should have only the part for his instrument(s). For example, there must be two individual parts for Flute 1 and Flute 2. Do not combine Flute 1 and 2 on a single part for both players to read.

These instructions seem to follow what I see in professionally-published scores, but I haven't attempted a broad review. In the examples I have, notes are written as though for a single voice (admittedly, this can only be done if the two combined parts have the same rhythm).

Trying to follow these instructions using MuseScore 2 appears to be a bit difficult. The best approach I have come up with is to give each instrument its own staff and include the part number in the part name and both the long and short instrument name (staff properties). When done composing, generate all the individual parts. Create a copy of the score, select the 2nd instrument, switch it to voice 2, copy/paste it into the first instrument's staff and delete the 2nd instrument. Then relabel the instrument as, say, "Flutes 1 & 2".

This gets you most of the way. To get to a fully professional orchestral score, voice 1 and 2 need to be combined in voice 1 (where rhythmically possible) and the score needs to be marked with "1.", "2." and "a2" when there is a single line of music. As far as I know, this needs to be done manually.

This might be a good use for the plugin system, but the plugin system appears incapable of adding chords (see For a large score, the workaround I've described is tedious and requires keeping two scores in synch.

Does anyone have a better method?


My impression is that combining parts on a single staff was more common before the advent of notation software, and that these days, even professionally-published music tends to use separate staves because as far as I know none of the major notation programs that professional composers use support generating parts from combined staves, at least not directly. But of course, it is possible with workarounds to make it happen if you like.

I think I can improve on your workflow a little. First, I would recommend a single score, not two. Just make the inidividual staves invisible (in Edit / Instruments) before printing or generating a PDF. Second, to combine voices where possible, try Edit / Tools / Implode, also try just selecting the staff then pressing the voice 1 button. Both have the effect of combining notes that can be combined, although the specifics differ between the two approaches and no doubt some hand cleanup would be required either way.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I don't think you need to create a second copy of your score.

Using just Flutes 1 & 2 as an example, I would probably do it this way:

1. First create the full score with each instrument on its' own stave (as usual).

2. Create an extra flute stave for Flutes1&2.

3. Copy the Flute1 part to the Flutes1&2 stave (should all be in voice 1).

4. Temporarily assign the entire contents of Flute2 to voice 3 (Tools>Exchange voices 1-3) or voice 2 if you want downward stems in the second flute on the combined staff.

5. Open Selection Filter (from the View menu) and deselect voice1 in the Flute 2 stave.

6. Copy the entire contents of Flute2 (i.e. voice 2 or 3 only) and paste to the Flute1&2 stave.

7. You should now see both parts in the Flutes1&2 stave.

8. Select the whole of Flutes 1&2, and in the Inspector, click notes, then un-check "play". (so the flute parts aren't doubled when playing back the score).

9. Reset the contents of the original Flute 2 stave to voice 1 (optional).

10. Go to Edit>Instruments and un-check "visible" for Flute1 and Flute2 (but leave Flutes1&2 visible)

Now you'll see just the combined Flutes1&2 stave in the score, but you can generate and print (and playback) the individual parts for Flute1 and Flute2.

Attachment Size
Flutes_test.mscz 6.01 KB

In reply to by Xasman

Hey, great little hack!

This eliminates the need for a separate score file, but you still have to maintain two matching sets of music. For example, I took your attachment and changed a few notes in voice 3. There was no corresponding change to the Flute 1 and Flute 2 parts.

Using voice 3 keeps the stems of voice 1 and 3 up. This isn't the same as just using voice 1, where stems go up and down. You can manually correct this, but then combining Flute 1 and 2 requires an edit pass.

In cases where the two instruments are playing the same musical line, using voice 3 gives you two note heads where there should be just one. More editing is needed to hide the undesired note heads.

Using voice 3 may also throw in some rests that wouldn't appear if we wrote everything in voice 1. These can be quickly eliminated (Select all similar elements in voice 3 and delete), so that's not as much of a problem.

Finally, there is no automatic way of adding the "1.", "2." and "a2" markings. Of course, if it's written with voice 1 and 3, you don't really need those markings. But if a professional score requires these marks, then they need to be there.

And that is my question, really. What are the standards regarding handling parts in the main score and in the parts? If the standard is as described in Young Conductors' site, then MuseScore 2 doesn't appear to have the horse power needed to easily produce a professional orchestral score with parts (they key is "easily"—we know we can do it with manual hacking, but we wind up with a lot of editing and with parts that need to be kept in synch manually).

If there are other standards that are professionally accepted and that MuseScore 2 can meet, I'd like to know.

If the plugin system could be made to work, it might be possible to combine two instruments into one voice on one staff and with the proper markings added. This would require an edit step after any change, but it would be an easy one—not laborious and error-prone.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Somehow I missed your initial reply, so thanks for repeating it!

Looks like Tools > Implode might be very useful (just gave it a quick try). This menu is bit hidden and I haven't played with the features there too much. Explode and Resequence Rehearsal Marks also seem like hidden gems.

As for separate staves, I just want to be sure I have this right: If I have a 2222-444-etc. orchestral arrangement, then publishers are publishing the main score with 8 woodwind staves and 12 brass staves?

"Hide empty staves" helps a lot. It just occurred to me that something else that would help would be an option to scale-to-fit the score portion of any page where the score would overflow its maximum boundaries. I don't suppose there's an option for that hidden somewhere?

In reply to by freixas

Some scores are definitely published that way, yes, because most composers use Finale or Sibelius, and as far as I know neither of those programs make it any easier to combine staves the way people formerly did it by hand. And I think a lot of scores are published directly from the composer's PDF rather than being re-typeset by the publisher. But I don't have specific numbers for you - I just know it does happen, and has been and will continue to be more and more common.

In reply to by freixas

"This eliminates the need for a separate score file, but you still have to maintain two matching sets of music. For example, I took your attachment and changed a few notes in voice 3. There was no corresponding change to the Flute 1 and Flute 2 parts."

That's right - AFAIK, dynamic linking between 2 separate parts and a single divisi stave in the score isn't currently possible in MuseScore. In fact, it's not currently possible to *generate* 2 separate instrumental parts directly from a single (divisi) stave in the score - hence the workaround I suggested. For that reason, it's best to leave generating the parts until the end - i.e. after you've finished all the editing. I note for the competition on the website you mention, they only require a score (and not individual instrumental parts) in the first instance anyway.

"Finally, there is no automatic way of adding the "1.", "2." and "a2" markings. Of course, if it's written with voice 1 and 3, you don't really need those markings. But if a professional score requires these marks, then they need to be there."

Sure. Again, AFAIK, then the only way to do this currently in MuseScore is to add them manually via stave or system text.

"What are the standards regarding handling parts in the main score and in the parts?"

Well thankfully, there's no "Music Notation Police" to enforce any particular standard or standards. Different organisations, individuals (and music software) often have different standards/guidelines/preferences, but the current standard regarding this in MuseScore seems to be simple: One stave (or group of linked staves) in the score = one instrumental part. To the best of my knowledge, anything else right now (as of v2.0.2) is a workaround (such as the one I suggested).

I appreciate that for the purpose of submitting a score to an organisation for a competition, you need to adhere to that organisation's stated guidelines. However, in other cases and in general, it seems to me that the idea of combining 2 instruments on the same single stave in the score makes sense only if and when the parts are relatively simple and don't cross or overlap each others' registers. Otherwise I don't see any advantage to it - what would be the point if it were to make the score more difficult (or even impossible) to read?

Just out of curiosity, do you know of any other software notation program which *can* actually do all of what you're asking about here? If so, I'd be genuinely interested to know about it.

If you start your score from the scratch, I think it is more easy to write each instrument on its own staff. Then you can combine them (if you want).

But... I'm not sure if there is a Median-Persian musical rule about this specific issue.

If the musicians understand your idea... It doesn't matter if there is one or hundreds of staves!!!

Finally, the mess is only to the conductor, which is the only guy with all the staves, to all instruments, at a time in just one page (all the individual musicians only have its own parts).

Good evening,
sorry for bumping an old post ; I've found some more recent nodes on the same subject but this one is particularly detailed.
I was just wondering if there were something new about parts distributions since 2015 (perhaps in MuseScore 3)?
TGTools for Finale seems to be able to distribute parts in a smart way, based on "1.", "2.", "a2", ... texts.
Do you think this can be done in MuseScore by a plugin?

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

I don't think so, the ability to extract several parts from a single staff looks like a great (and necessary!) first step to me. It's just the way to indicate how the notes are shared out between parts that we'd like to enhance: not only by voices but also with texts as "a2".
Maybe should I open a thread in the Feature Requests forum (with more details)?

In reply to by vrou

Normally I'm using Lilypond and in there, it's possible to get two voices on one stave and unisono parts marked with A2 and if there is only one voice, is marked e.g. 1. This can easily be changes as you wish.

Just now I'm struggling with MuseScore 4. So far I've not found a way to have this automated without manual intervention but I might be wrong.

The reason I've to combine two voices for some instruments of one stave is that I need to save space. In a symphonic piece I'm working on, there are 36 instruments and 2 SATB choir so even using paper size A3 this results in a rather cramped score. In fact, the composer used paper size B3 which is even bigger than A3.

I have a question which I don’t believe has been addressed here yet in regard to creating parts from a score. If, for example, the first and second flute parts appear on their own staves in the score, is it possible to create a part that BOTH staves will appear on, sort of like a “duet”? This way the second flute can see the first flute part, and vice versa. This is frequently done with opera parts. Any thoughts?

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