Robert Estrin - piano expert

What are double stemmed notes?

Learn more about another important element of music theory

In this video, Robert tells you about "double stemmed notes," and explains when they are usually found in music

Released on June 25, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi this is Robert Estrin at and We have a viewer question, "Why are there sometimes double stems on notes?" Have you ever seen that? It's really interesting. You might think, "This is crazy!" But there is a good reason. We're going to cover that today.

Well, if you're a singer or you play a monophonic instrument like a trumpet, clarinet, or flute, you virtually never see double stemmed notes. It's only in polyphonic writing. You see, the piano, for example, you have multiple parts, and sometimes you'll have two notes on two different parts that are playing the same note at the same time.

Just imagine for example, if there was a choir singing and the sopranos and the altos, their line, at one note, they had the same note. Instead of writing the note twice, if it was written on one staff, they would put a stem going up for the soprano and down for the alto on the same note.

Sometimes you'll even have double stems with two different rhythms. You'll have a half note and a quarter note on the same note. The note holds for one line and the next line is going on with faster notes while that note is continuing to hold. There's great complexity and counter point delineating distinct musical lines. To be able to play more than one on one instrument, like you do on the piano, on stringed instruments like violin and cello, and guitar, classical guitar, we all see these on a regular basis.

That solves the mystery for those of you wondering why there are double stems on notes. Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on June 2, 2017 @7:58 pm PST
I would suggest that for a lot of music with such unisons, especially where the unisons are for notes of short duration, most listeners would not notice the difference. In any case, what I'm saying is that if the performer finds it too difficult to achieve the notes as written, he/she should just play the note once. To me, the issue is an empirical one. Such unisons, if desired by the composer, make the most audible sense if used on notes of appreciably longer duration.
Robert Estrin - host, on June 3, 2017 @10:34 am PST
It comes down to context as you mention - whatever works!
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on May 31, 2017 @8:52 am PST
For a violinist, whether to play the same note on two different adjacent strings depends on whether your fingers are long enough to do this easily...if not, the pragmatic solution of course is to only play the note "once" instead of as a double stop...I would venture a listener probably wouldn't notice the difference.
Robert Estrin - host, on June 2, 2017 @5:07 pm PST
There is a quality to the sound of a unison that sadly pianists can't duplicate. But if it is written for a string instrument, it can add an important element.
maggie * VSM MEMBER * on July 4, 2014 @11:58 am PST
clip was ok. Show me more by demonstrating more about how eight notes are played in different timings.
Robert Estrin - host, on July 5, 2014 @12:43 pm PST
Please let me know if there is a particular piece of music which you would like guidance on. We may produce a video just for you!
Patricia on June 25, 2014 @7:25 am PST
Dear Professor Estrin:

I am learning the violin, but I always watch your videos because I find valuable information in reference to music in general and I thank you for this.

In the case of the first two-quarter notes on the screen showed as an example, my question is, -Should I play the written note together with the same note one octave lower or higher?*. In another words, -How can I know which are the two notes that I am suppose to play at the same time in accordance with the written note?

Looking forward for your response, I remain cordially yours.


*I am ruling out to go one octave higher from the written note plus one octave lower from the written note resulting in two octaves apart. I believe to play this with the violin will be perhaps impossible.
Robert Estrin - host, on June 25, 2014 @1:16 pm PST
When you have counterpoint with 2 lines for example and the 2 lines share a note at one point, it should be played exactly at the octave written. Ideally you would play both notes simultaneously on 2 different strings if possible. (It depends upon context.)
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