Outdated Notation Practices

The opinion expressed in this article is based on years of both copying and, especially, playing experience.

My first copy work was with pen and ink. I studied all of the available materials on copying music and worked rigorously on writing neat and accurate music. I used italic pens with India ink and ordered expensive manuscript paper from special suppliers in many different formats.

Much of that paper is still stacked up in my office and probably will never be used. The computer has rendered it obsolete. In my opinion, the computer has also made some notational practices from the hand written days obsolete.


Complicated Repeat Patterns

When a conductor must stand before a group of adult, professional musicians and make sure that everyone understands the “road map”, the repeat patterns are too complex. Those of us on the stage or in the pit need to be able to concentrate on playing musically and little else.

All notation software copies and pastes easily. There is no reason to have third and fourth endings with song repeats, chorus repeats, verse repeats, and complicated DS and DC patterns. It does not save a copyist time and makes the music more difficult to read.

Admittedly, there are times when a piece needs to fit the performer’s stands (more than 3 pages requires either rests, a good memory, or an extra hand). Making a piece versatile enough to be used in several ways may also require some repeats. Standard repeats and first and second endings are fine. After that, use the technology; copy and paste.

Music notation practices have changed many times over the years. This is not a static field. In my opinion as both a copyist and a performer, any notational practice that obfuscates the intent of the composer while serving no practical purpose is detrimental and should be stopped.


Several Parts on One Sheet

It is not uncommon for two wind parts to occupy the same sheet. Since parts are usually extracted from a score, this makes for fewer staves on the score (larger and more readable) and sometimes gives the performers a better view of what the others in the section are playing.

However, rarely (never?) should three or more parts be compressed onto one. The middle voice is difficult to read at sight and the resulting confusion causes unnecessary errors. Parts in which the rhythms are very different should not be combined for the same reason.


Long Multi-measure Rests / No Rehearsal Marks

It is naive for an arranger or copyist to expect performers to not be confused by long rests that do not reflect the form of the music. Time should always be taken to place rehearsal marks and double bars where appropriate.


...And a Good Thing

There appears to be a growing trend to place vocal text cues in instrumental parts of music with voices. This is extremely helpful to the musicians, especially if the music consists of a series of sections that are likely to be rearranged at rehearsal (or during the performance). Bravo for good ideas!

R.G. Smith Music Engraving & Publishing
(405) 720-0708