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Musical Symbols of Piano Music: Part Two


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8va & Other Octave Commands
8va, 8vb; 15ma, 15mb in piano music.

These symbols may affect just one note; but if several measures are affected, the command is extended with a dashed line, and ends with the word loco, meaning “back in place.”

Image © Brandy Kraemer

How to Read Octave Commands

Musical symbols such as 8va and 15va indicate that a note or passage will be played in a different octave. These commands make it easier to read very high or low notes that would otherwise be written using multiple ledger lines:

  • 8va
    Play one octave higher than notated on the staff.

    8va stands for ottava (Italian for “octave”) and may be written a number of other ways: 8a; ottava alta; all’ ottava; ottava sopra, or simply 8 above the staff.

  • 8vb
    Play one octave lower.

    8vb may also be written 8a b; 8va bassa; ottava bassa; ottava sotto, or simply 8 below the staff.

  • 15ma
    Play two octaves higher than notated.

    15ma stands for quindicesima (“the fifteenth”) and may also be written alla quindicesima, or with 15 above the staff.

  • 15mb
    Play two octaves lower.

    May also be written 15 below the staff.

These commands may affect a single note or several measures. For longer passages, octave commands are extended with a dotted, horizontal line, and end at the word loco.

See More Musical Symbols:
Staff & Barlines    ■Note Lengths     ■Articulation Marks    ■Repeat Signs
The Grand Staff      ■Dotted Notes      ■Dynamics & Volume      ■Segno & Coda Signs
Time Signatures       ■Accidentals        ■Key Signatures      ■Pedal Marks
Tempo Commands     ■Piano Chords         ■Music Rests          ■8va & Octave Commands

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