Resources for music notation/engraving standards and conventions

• Jul 7, 2012 - 15:01

Notation software effectively does much or most music formatting for us, depending on the score’s overall complexity. Nonetheless, resources concerning conventions of style and standards are valuable when manual tweaks and adjustments need to be made or simply for general reference.

Does anyone have recommendations for guidebooks or manuals of notation and engraving practices?

I’m aware of the following books (among others), though I have no experience with them:

‘Music Notation in the Twentieth Century’ - Kurt Stone
‘Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice’ - Gardner Read
‘Essential Dictionary of Music Notation’ - Tom Gerou

I do have another title, ‘Music Engraving Today’ by Steven Powell. It’s notable for addressing issues of computerized typesetting of music, although any software-specific information is directed at Finale and Sibelius users.

Until recently there was a very useful website called ‘The Big Site of Music Notation and Engraving’, hosted by Colorado College. I’d describe the site as ‘concise’ rather than ‘big’, but I found myself referring to it often -- especially for its illustrated treatment of the principles governing the placement of accidentals in complex chords containing seconds.

I don’t know why that site was taken down (or, at any rate, is now offline), but here’s the URL if anyone wants to go there via the Wayback Machine:…


My impression is that the Read and the Stone have been considered the definitive works for the past few decades, but the Gould has almost overnight supplanted them as the go-to source.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I just came across this today at IMSLP, in the Typesetting Guidelines section of the Contributor Portal. They offer the aforementioned title by Gardner Read as a primary resource, and also mention this concise guide hosted by the Werner Icking Archive:

Music Publishers Association of the United States’ Standard Music Notation:

My only complaint is that no effort is made to describe the visual distinction between ties and slurs -- and, in fact, ties and slurs have the identical appearance in the graphic examples there. That is, in my opinion, a very significant flaw.

In reply to by Nicolas

If you follow the link I posted, you will see that the essay I referenced has a completely different title from the one you mentioned. Furthermore, nowhere is the name of Jean-Pierre Coulon mentioned. Of course, I can't be absolutely sure what the third item in your list consists of because the link is broken.

Do you still have an unanswered question? Please log in first to post your question.