What Do 8va And 8vb Mean In Music? (And Piano!) | Dynamic Music Room (2024)

Little music signs always throw people off.

There are so many out there; it’s tough to know what every single one means.

One day, I was playing in a band when the musician next to me leaned over and pointed at his music.

He was asking:What do 8va and 8vb mean in music?

Watch on

What Do 8va And 8vb Mean In Music? (And Piano!) | Dynamic Music Room (1)

Most people won’t see this marking in their music. It’s only really common in piano and the high and low instruments.

Still, everyone may come across it at some point. Here’s what it means:

In music, 8va and 8vb are octave signs and change the note without having to move it on the staff way up or down. 8va means to play the notes up one octave. 8vb means to play them down one octave. This means they still are given the same pitch/letter name, but it’s played higher or lower.

As a tuba player and music teacher by trade, I’m used to talking about this and seeing it.

In the rest of the article, we’ll talk about some of the nuances around this marking and why it’s used in the first place.

Table of Contents

Octave Sign – 8va And 8vb

8va Music Symbol Definition

What Do 8va And 8vb Mean In Music? (And Piano!) | Dynamic Music Room (2)

As much of our music words came from Italy and the Italian language, it’s only natural that this symbol comes from an Italian word.

The 8va sign is short forottava.The word stands for octave or 8 notes.

When you see the wordottavaor the symbol, 8va, you play the written note 8 tones higher than what’s written.

This means the note name stays the same; it’s just one octave higher.

So if you see a G in the middle of the treble clef staff with an 8va symbol, you play it as if it were on the top of the treble clef staff.

8va may also be paired with the termloco.

When you see this symbol, it means to start playing the notes back as written.

8vb Music Symbol Definition

What Do 8va And 8vb Mean In Music? (And Piano!) | Dynamic Music Room (3)

When we want to play notes one octave below, composers use the term8va bassaorottava bassa.

Over time, this was shortened to 8vb or 8ba.

Interestingly, 8vb is a term that only started showing up when classical music started to rise in America.

Now, it’s accepted everywhere, though not as common still in Europe.

Most notation software use 8vb, but some that are strictly based out of the U.S. may not.

Instead, you’ll have to use or read the 8va bassa marking.

How To Know If 8va Or 8vb Is For A Single Note Or The Whole Phrase

As simple as this sounds, composers and arrangers don’t always use the markings in the exact same way.

Sometimes, you’ll only use the marking for a single note.

Other times, you’ll go on for a whole phrase.

You might see dots or boxes or none at all.

Here are a few of the variations of the octave signs you may find:

What you seeWhat it means
8va with bracket* or dotted linesPlay up an octave until bracket is done
8vb or 8va bassa** with bracket* or dotted linesPlay down an octave until bracket is done
8va with a note in parenthesisPlay a single note up one octave
8vb with a note in parenthesisPlay a single note up one octave
8va or 8vb with dots followed by locoPlay all notes up or down an octave until the word loco, then play as written
8va or 8vb with other marks until the word locoPlay all notes up or down an octave until the word loco, then play as written
The number 8*** with dots written above the staffPlay all notes below the dots up one octave
The number 8*** with dots written below the staffPlay all notes above the dots down one octave

*It doesn’t matter if the marking is above or below the music if you see the “va” or “vb.”

**8vb and 8va bassa always mean the same thing.

***The main difference here is that the number, 8, has no “va” or “vb” to tell you whether to play up or down.

Why Do We Use 8va And 8vb In Music?

If all this seems confusing, octave signs were actually invented to help you.

When you play really high or really low, you need to use little lines called ledger lines to show the notes.

After a couple of these, it gets harder to read.

Using the octave signs saves room for writing and lets you read the notes in a place where you’ll instantly recognize the note.

Usually, you only see this on instruments with extremes in their range.

Common examples include:

  • Piano and other keyboard instruments
  • Piccolo
  • Flute
  • Oboe
  • Violin
  • String Bass; Double Bass
  • Tuba

Octave Signs For Piano: 8va And 8vb Symbol

Piano being the instrument with the most accessible range, it uses octave signs all of the time.

All the rules we talked about before do apply to the piano, but many people will ask if this symbol applies to both hands when you see it.

No. The octave sign only applies to the staff if it’s by. The right-hand plays the top staff (treble clef most of the time), and the left-hand plays the bottom staff (bass clef most of the time).

If the composer, arranger, or transcriber wants both hands to be up or down, they’ll use the phrase “both hands” to let you know.

Need some help on piano? Check out Flowkey with their easy-to-follow lessons and literal thousands of songs with learning tools.

I’ve been playing music for almost 20 years now, and I still use it to help me learn new songs (and it’s fun too!).

What Does 15ma Mean?

15ma is a rare symbol and use almost exclusively by piano music.

It stands for the phrasequindicesima, which means 15 notes higher.

Despite the number, it doesn’t actually want you to play only 15 notes higher; you need to play two octaves higher.

You’ll rarely see this written as 15mb or 15ma bassa. The bass clef covers the low end of the piano well enough it’s not needed.

Commonly Asked Questions

What Does 8va Mean In Bass Clef?

The 8va sign still means to play up one octave or 8 notes in bass clef.

While it does seem easier to simply switch the clef to treble clef and read it normally, this may not be practical if it’s only happening for a short period.

What Does 8vb Mean In Treble Clef?

By a similar token, if you see the 8vb sign in treble clef, it means to play down one octave.

Yes, bass clef would be easy to read here, but another reason to avoid switching clefs is familiarity.

If you’re on an instrument unfamiliar with bass clef, it’ll actually hinder you from reading it.

What Does Con 8va Mean In Music?

Con 8vais a rare musical symbol that translates to “with octave.”

With this mark, the highlighted melody or line needs to be played both as written AND up one octave.

It sometimes happens on the piano when they want one hand doubling the melody.

It’ll also happen on occasion in wind instrument music for orchestra or band when the composer wants both high and low versions of the melody played.

In this case, the section should split into two equal groups (or with one extra person on the low part if the section contains an odd number of people) to play the melody.

What Do 8va And 8vb Mean In Music? (And Piano!) | Dynamic Music Room (2024)


What Do 8va And 8vb Mean In Music? (And Piano!) | Dynamic Music Room? ›

8va = Ottava = Octave. 8vb = Ottava Bassa = Octave Below (Octave lower). To indicate that a note, section, phrase or part of the music is to be played one octave higher than written, we write 8va above the music.

What does the 8 mean in piano music? ›

Octave clef

An "8" below the clef (as in the diagram) indicates that pitches will sound an octave lower than they would with the unmodified clef. A "15" below indicates a two-octave shift. These numbers may also be used above the clef to indicate pitches one or two octaves higher.

What does 8ab mean in music? ›

Below a note in bass clef it means to play an octave lower. Strictly speaking you should not see it in any other position/clef, but there is a lot of poorly notated music in the world. Sometimes for the lower octave you will see "8 ba" for "all'ottava bassa".

Why is 8va and 15ma? ›

Like the notation 8va for octave (Italian: ottava), 15ma (Italian: quindicesima) means "play two octaves higher than written." It could also mean two octaves lower, but that is usually notated 15mb.

What does 8vb mean in music? ›

8vb = Ottava Bassa = Octave Below (Octave lower). To indicate that a note, section, phrase or part of the music is to be played one octave higher than written, we write 8va above the music.

What is the 8 or 8va? ›

The “The “ottava” symbols ” symbols 8 or or 8va are used in music to instruct performers that certain notes are intended to be executed an octave higher or lower their written pitch. This is particularly useful when the range of the notes greatly exceeds the capabilities of the staff, for a given clef.

What does both hands 8va mean in piano? ›

Looking again at measure five, you notice up above there it says optional play both hands 8va on the third and fourth pass through. 8va means an octave higher.

Where is DB in piano? ›

Playing the D♭ major chord starts with finding the root of the chord: D♭. Look for the black keys in pairs of two and place your finger on the left one of these two — the black key between C and D. From there, you can build the chord.

What is very loud in music? ›

mezzo-forte (medium loud) f. forte (loud) ff. fortissimo (very loud)

What does W and H mean in music? ›

For instance, in a chromatic scale each scale step represents a semitone interval, while a major scale is defined by the interval pattern W–W–H-W-W–W–H, where W stands for whole step (an interval spanning two semitones, e.g. from C to D), and H stands for half-step (e.g. from C to D♭).

What does 8va bassa mean? ›

[Italian, octave below] An Italian term meaning at the octave (below). Abbreviated as 8va bassa, 8a b. or more commonly today, 8vb. When written below a passage it indicates the passage be performed one octave lower than written.

What does 2 octaves mean in music? ›

Therefore, if a singer is able to hit all the notes from C3 (the C below middle C) to C5 (the C above middle C), for example, it means they have a vocal range of two octaves.

What is the 8va symbol on the piano? ›

'8va' written above a stave means 'octave higher'. Written below, it means 'octave lower'. Below the stave, '8vb' is also acceptable. Just '8' may also be used in either position.

How do you write 8vb? ›

“The abbreviation “8va. bassa” or “8vb.”, placed below the staff indicates that the passage is to sound one octave lower than written.” Given Berklee's worldwide influence in the fields of jazz, commercial music, TV and film music, and popular music, I think it's a mistake to dismiss 8vb as incorrect or “wrong”.

Why is 8 important in music? ›

An 8 count is a rhythmic grouping of 8 beats. Most of the music you hear every day — popular, mainstream, Western music — is structured in sets of 8 beats (waltz, an exception, is in sets of 6). The 8 count defines the beat because, when you're able to count it, you have confirmation that you've found the beat.

What is the 8 scale in music? ›

The eight notes on the musical scale are called the octatonic or diminished scale. In the major scale, the eight notes go up the steps from bottom to top. These are the eight notes of the octave. On a C scale, the notes from low to high would be C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.

What does an 8 at the bottom of a treble clef mean? ›

Such a modified treble clef is most often found in tenor parts in SATB settings, using a treble clef with the numeral 8 below it. This indicates that the pitches sound an octave lower.

What is the 8 above notes? ›

Abbreviation for all' ottava or "at the octave." This indication is most often found above specific notes on a staff and indicates that those notes should be performed one octave higher than written.


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