Recommended publications on the rules of musical notation?

• Dec 29, 2019 - 01:01

I saw a post, sometime ago, that seemed to suggest that there were currently certain books that were considered exhaustive and authoritative works on all the general rules for designing and engraving traditional sheet music, such as when to use codas as opposed to repeated sections, where to put the codas, how to decide how many measures of any repeated section to include as an ending, rules regarding whether to put the half rest first, followed by the quarter rest, or whether to put the quarter-rest first followed by the half rest, or whether to just put a dotted half rest alone, rules for when to use the double-bar. After all, the MuseScore manual tells us how to use the program, but does not offer much guidance on the rules of notation as such.

There must be several textbooks for students of music that answer all these questions. I guess I am looking for the most exhaustive work on this subject, but only for traditional Western music, and not so much the typographical aspect, but rather the rules that a composer might follow for putting his own ideas on paper, or that a transcriber might follow as he listens and tries to put on paper what he hears in recorded form.

I usually work with scores for only one instrument, mainly saxohpone, and only for existing songs by other composers, not any that I write myself. Chord symbols are often important to me, but I do not use guitar tabs at all.

Lately I have been trying to condense transcriptions by identifying the repeated sections, omitting the duplications and substituting repeat symbols, but I get lost when it comes to choosing how to represent the repeats sometimes, when to use codas, what to do when I have several codas, etc. Sometimes I find myself putting "to Coda" a few measures before "D.S. al Coda" and ask myself whether or not that follows protocol or whether it creates a problem.

also, I have read lots of jazz scores that seem to create new solutions to traditional problems, and I often ask myself how they would have been handled fifty to one hundred years earlier, before these new conventions were developed. "D.S. al Coda, Take Second Ending" for example. I assume that many of the new conventions are even unique solutions that were truly needed, for which none was available before, and if so, perhaps I need a book that is a bit more contemporary, so that I can adapt. However, I am not particularly interested in the more unorthodox and extreme avant-garde ideas, such as using non-traditional key signatures, quarter-tones, and so on, as they do not relate to my needs at present.

Maybe I don't need a book as exhaustive as I think, but maybe I do. I would just hate to come across a situation now and then, that the book could not answer. Please feel free to offer your suggestions to help me choose the right one.

If there is already a post on this subject here, please be so kind as to share the link, or if you know of a list elsewhere on the Internet, of exhaustive publications on this subject, please let me know.

Meanwhile, if you know of an ordinary website that comes very close to answering all the questions on this subject, I would love to know about it, also. Thank you!


"Behind Bars - The Definitive Guide To Music Notation" and it is.

By Elaine Gould.

First Published 2011 by Faber Music. ISBN 978-0-571-51456-4

Worth every penny.

In reply to by BrowMV

Very kind of you to share.

I would be curious to see a comparison of the most popular books on the subject, but I cannot seem to find one online anywhere.

One site says "Such-and-such a book has much more detail than the other" but it does not say which aspect of musical notation it is that the detail addresses.

Another comment said that Gould's book was lacking in certain areas, but did not bother to tell us which areas.

Anyway, thanks very much for the tips.

In reply to by ErikJon

In fact, I would like to know which COMBINATION of books might make up for such oversights. For example, if one addresses all the traditional conventions, but another book emphasises the contemporary recording-studio traditions, I might buy both, in spite of some overlap. Do you know what I mean?

But I certainly don't want a book that will end up being a glorified manual on Finale or Sibelius, since I will be using MuseScore exclusively, and I don't want a book dedicated too much to the manual process of engraving by hand, laying out a page in advance, measuring the margins, or whatever it is that they teach in such older books.

(Incidentally, it looks like "engraving" is the outdated term, and there seems to be a lack of a more contemporary substitute in English. People say "preparing" and "laying out," but all of these seem to side-step the issue of the designing involved.)

Behind Bars is comprehensive on the subject of engraving, not so much on the subject of notation itself. So it deosn't concern itself with questions about when you use repeats and voltas versus a DS etc - just about what exactly that volta should look like if you do use it.

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