Music Notation Question

Piano music, key of C Major.

In one bar I see an F# in the treble clef. OK, that means play that F and all subsequent Fs in that measure sharp, including those encountered in the other (bass) clef.

Well, there is another F in the same measure but it has a natural sign (don’t know how to represent that with a keystroke). That, duh, means play that F as a natural. But this naturalized F has its sign enclosed in parentheses.

Here’s the question: WTF is up with the parentheses?

Does this mean I can play F or F#, according to taste, i.e., it’s optional? Does it have no meaning, i.e., play the F# and shut up? Is it likely a typo (hard to believe this one)?

If it’s any help the music is a (greatly) dumbed-down version of Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag.


The question is: how does the variation of F-natural sound to you?

Not a musician, but I think this means that subsequent F’s in this bar (if any) will still be F# (as per the first sharp) and not F-Natural (which should be the case after an explicit F-natural occurs in the bar, using the same logic as the F# carrying forward.)

No. The question is, “What is the purpose of the parentheses?”

I think I understand what you’re suggesting but the same thing could be accomplished without the parentheses (and actually does, elsewhere in the music).

Sometimes, the lines with these rules get blurry- like when you have another F in another register (than the F marked sharp)- is that affected and therefore F-sharp as well? This depends largely on WHEN the piece was written. The closer one gets to the present the more likely that a sharped F (in this case an F anyway) will refer only to THAT register of F.

In some modern music, the convention is that accidentals ONLY apply to the note it precedes and NOT the rest of the bar. Usually there is a little note informing you of this, but you have to rethink your whole way of reading in these cases…

Due to this ill-defined convention, sometimes parentheses are used to sort of say “Well, this of course is F-natural”. As VP said, this could be achieved with no punctuation.

Not sure this is what is going on with your case, though. Errors certainly ARE possible, IME.
just my 2¢,


The parentheses are usually used as a gentle explicit reminder of what was already implicit. The sharp/flat/natural state they indicate is usually already well defined by either a prior accidental or falling back to the key on the next bar.

In other words, you can remove the parenthetical sign and the note would still be correct because it is implicitly defined without ambiguity.

This might have been an error. Who hasn’t seen sheet music with errors?

Which bar is it in? I’ll look at my copy and see what’s there.


I have never seen that convention and don’t want to. In my mind, the accidental is for that particular note for the whole bar; blurriness allowed for different registers only.

In an attempt to summarise, and I am not a music theory expert, so all the following is IMO:

Not usually, no.

Not usually, no.

Quite possibly.

Not usually, no.

Agreed - IME, the accidental only applies to the same note in the same bar at the same pitch (i.e. it would not usually apply to the same note at a different octave, which should be marked separately).


The convention of the accidental only affecting the following note and not reiterations of the same note in the bar is admittedly rare. I think I have seen it happen only in particular, relatively ‘advanced’ works, like the music of Edison Denisov, Pierre Boulez, and a smattering of living (or not) but obscure composers.

An accidental in parentheses is known as a “cautionary accidental.” It’s normally used to remove ambiguity or provide a reminder about how a note should be played.

An F# in the treble clef only applies for that F. All Fs in other octaves need to be marked with sharps, otherwise they are natural (edit: well, depending on the key signature. You’re in C, so this is correct.) So, if you have an F that sharpened in the treble clef, but then enoucounter it sans accidental in the bass clef in the same measure, that bass clef F should be natural, not sharpened. I’m guessing you are seeing the sharp in parentheses in this context, reminding you not to raise this F, because it’s not supposed to be raised.

Here’s a site on accidentals across octaves I just found:

Excellent explanation! Thanx. This is almost certainly it, since, as I mentioned, it’s a dumbed-down edition so they need to remind the dummy…

Vorpal - Now that your Q has been answered in a most excellent way…

Your post takes me back many years to when I learned a dumbed-down version of Maple Leaf Rag in C. I found it not particularly easy due to the syncopation. I then tackled the official version in Ab, and even though it was an order of magnitude more difficult, I found it much more enjoyable to learn. I recommend trying it. Don’t be intimidated by 4 flats, the chords are actually easy to play because of the black notes. And the flashy arpeggios up four octaves are probably the easiest part of it all. Flashy and easy is a good combo for the piano player :slight_smile:

The “A” part is not too hard, “B” is harder but sounds terrific. Together they can sound like a complete piece without the more difficult “C” and “D”

You can find the score here. Good luck!

That surprised me, too. Once you get past the notation and constantly thinking “is this note flat or not?”, flat keys are often a whole lot easier for jazzy stuff.