Have you ever wondered which type of score was the “right” type to use with your band or music ensemble?
When should you provide an outline of your composition, and when should you write out all the notes and other musical instructions in great detail?
There are multiple types of musical scores – from simple lead sheets and PVGs (piano vocal guitar) to TABs (guitar tablature) and full-blown orchestral scores. Each of these score formats offer the performer different amounts and types of information and each has its own purpose. But which one should you use?
In this 4-part series, we’ll look at the characteristics of different types of scores, who they’re for and when you should use them.
In part 1, we tackle the Lead Sheet.
What is a lead sheet?
A lead sheet is a simple score that usually contains just a melody, lyrics (if applicable) and chord symbols – the bare essentials of a piece of music. The structure of the song (repeats, codas and so on) is often written included in a lead sheet, but not always.
Which styles of music use lead sheets?
Lead sheets are most commonly used in jazz, pop, rock, and folk music although each of those genres uses other score types as well.
What’s so great about a lead sheet?
A lead sheet communicates all the essential elements of a piece of music – the melody, lyrics and harmony – in an abbreviated form, so they’re good for sketching out ideas, outlining song structure, and keeping a record of chord sequences.
An entire song can be communicated in just a page or two.
When should I use a lead sheet?
Lead sheets are best used when you’re working with musicians who are able to improvise their own parts: the bass player can invent a bass line and the guitar and keyboard can improvise a ”comping” part (accompaniment) by reading the chord symbols.
Jazz pieces are frequently notated as lead sheets, due to the improvisatory style of the genre. Jazz musicians are accustomed to creating a full bass lines and accompanying parts around a provided chord sequence. One of the best-known collections of lead sheets is contained in The Real Book – a compilation of jazz songs that are considered standard repertoire.
When not to use lead sheets
Sometimes, you might want to be prescriptive about each of the parts of your piece – that is, you want the bass player or pianist to play specific notes of your choosing rather than allowing them to improvise their own parts. If that’s the case, then a different type of score might be more applicable.
3 top tips for writing successful lead sheets
1. Include the tempo and feel
Don’t forget to include a tempo and/or style indication at the beginning of the piece so that the performer knows how fast or slow the piece should be and what kind of “feel” to play. Words to use might be:
- Swing (and variations – heavy swing, light swing)
- Laid Back
2. Include some structure directions
It’s useful to include repeat signs, first- and second-time endings and codas where applicable. Performers can always vary the structure later on if they wish. You may also like to indicate the start of the verse or chorus, or beginning of the head by writing the appropriate term above the stave.
3. Make use of block lyrics
If your song has multiple verses, it’s not necessary to write all verses directly underneath the stave that contains the melody. You can write subsequent verses at the end of the piece as “block lyrics”. To create the block lyrics in MuseScore like I did in the example below, you can use Staff Text: select a note on the final stave and go to Create > Text > Staff Text. The cursor will appear above the stave, but don’t worry – once you’ve typed in the lyrics in block format, you can drag them into position underneath the stave.
MuseScore lead sheet tutorials
If you’d like to know more about creating lead sheets with MuseScore, Marc Sabatella has written two in-depth tutorials:
I also covered the basics of lead sheet creation in the ebook MuseScore: The Essential Beginner’s Guide.