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  • Writer's pictureDave

How to Make Your Scores Look Professional

Have you ever finished a Piece, turned it into a PDF and then immediately found a thousand mistakes?

That though the score is finished, from a music perspective. The Score is Not shippable, you can’t Hand it off to someone. It isn’t ready to be sold or used. And there can be a LOT to do and. A LOT that you can forget while you are in the middle of finishing a piece and getting off to the performers.

So, I wanted to make a video that highlights some of the things that I always tend to forget when I’m finishing up a score.

DISCLAIMER: Everyone has a different way of doing things. There is NO ONE way. I have literally been in class being told to do it one way, then two hours later in another class told the opposite. Everyone has an opinion.

Conventions are different in different arenas: Take for Example - Orchestra Scores.

Study Score are small score designed for listeners. They prioritize being compact, often hiding unnecessary staves and trying to cram measures on the page. This is usually to save money on ink and printing. Typical Conductor’s Scores for concert music, are usually very large, and prioritize keeping the layout the same and giving the maestro plenty of room to write in the score. Orchestral Film Scores go even further being eliminating measured rests and even increasing the size of the time signatures.

Even though all three types are about the orchestra, the context of their purpose changes how they are made and formatted.

Here is how to make your scores look professional:

Paper Size - For Large ensemble Works, use Tabloid (US Paper Size). Letter is really more for Chamber Scores and Parts. Publishers will use different sizes, but for your average composer who is printing on their own, tabloid is the way to go.

Have a Great Title Page - This is important Everywhere Except for Film. While concert goers will not experience the title page of you r piece of music, conductors and music directors will, and they are the ones who tend to make decisions with regards to programming. You want your title page to make them interested and click to learn more. Don’t use your notation software for this, they usually have limited options. Use a program like Canva to make something nice and that sticks out.


Have a Great Info Page- This should be the second page of your score and should include the following:



-Notes to Performers

-Symbol Key

-Program Notes

-Bio and Your Website Information

-Related Works (Optional)

-Program Notes (Yes they can really suck, but you should write them then!)

Once again you won’t want to use your notation software for this. Any document software will be better, Google Docs, Word, Pages etc.

Indicate whether your score is TRANSPOSED or SCORE IN C -Make it clear! Your Conductor needs to KNOW. Especially if you aren’t using a Key Signature, they might not be able determine which notes are being played. Generally speaking, Transposed Scores are more common, but some conductors prefer Scores in C. If you can, ask them, and if you can’t assume Transposed. Do not skip this small step, it is crucial.

Put Everything in SCORE ORDER -This will always be true in large ensemble scores. The only exception is in Chamber Music, where unusual combinations of instruments can occur. Chose what makes sense.

Tempos - Don’t miss the opportunity of telling your players how to play/characterize the music. It is easy to write Quarter equals 120 and leave it at that. Give them more, a word, a direction. It doesn’t have to be much.

Format Your Time Signatures - If in Film World, use Gigantic Time Signatures. For Wind Ensemble and Orchestra in Concert World, Huge Time signatures are preferred. In Choral and Chamber Scores, the standard size is fine. General rule of thumb, if conducted go with Huge, if not, standard is fine.

Measure Numbers - In any large ensemble score, you should have every single Measure numbe written out. There is really no point to not doing this, it will save you time in yoru rehearsal and just makes life easier for the conductor. This is something you want. For Choral and Chamber, it depends. Chose whichever keeps the score clear and not cluttered.

General Formatting: Use 6-8 Bars per page, especially in large ensemble scores. Let it breathe. For conductors, don’t hide staves, keep the layout the same. In Film World, remove measure rests so that the score can be written on in the event of an on-the-fly reorchestration.

Section Checks - Check Commands for the Strings. Arco to Pizza, Pont. To Ord. Etc.

For Percussion and Woodwinds, double check the time you have given people to change instruments.

For Brass, check your mute changes.

Watch out for Orphaned Dynamics across the score. Be as clear and accurate as possible when using dynamics and give clear destinations.

Lastly, Get a Friend to look it over if possible. Ideally you can print it and go over it.

And that is essentially it. Those are the things that you need to check to make sure that your Score is Shippable. Remember context is key, and there will be different standards within the context that you are working in.

People are going to disagree about stuff. And there is no pleasing everyone. I’ve had people give me grief for the type of Font I’ve Used.

Even when it is perfectly correct, someone is going to find something they dislike. This is okay.

Because at the End of the Day, only one thing matters with SCORES.

Is it Clear? Because CLEAR IS KIND and you want people to understand what you are saying.

Nothing Kills a recording session faster than the score and parts not being CLEAR.

This isn’t going to catch everything. These are just some of the Really Important parts of Finishing a Score and Making it Shippable.

Best of luck! Reach out if I can ever be helpful.



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