Have you ever wondered how to correctly notate a D.S. al Coda? Exactly where to position a tempo marking? Or when to tell a trumpeter to use a cup mute, harmon mute or straight mute?
Here are 7 of the best reference guides for music notation which will answer those questions and much more.
This is my favourite quick notation guide. It’s a small, well-priced book and it may be all you need. The information is presented in a dictionary-style format and there are lots of images.
This book is an excellent companion guide to the Essential Dictionary Of Music Notation and provides instrument-spcecific information. There are overviews of instrument ranges and practical scoring tips for more than 150 instruments. It’s ideal for composers and arrangers writing for any ensemble size.
Behind Bars is the most comprehensive notation guide published since the 1980s. At 650+ pages long, it’s not for the faint-hearted but you certainly won’t need anything else. The book is divided into 3 main sections: General Conventions, Idiomatic Notation and Layout and Presentation, and it is recognised as the new industry-standard text.
Considered by many to be the standard reference until Behind Bars came along, Music Notation was published in 1979 – well before computer notation existed. The book includes a history of music notation as well as detailed information about preparing score and parts.
If notating drum parts is a mystery, I can highly recommend this excellent guide. This book suggests sensible rules and conventions for creating clear, easy to read drum parts which have been adopted by The Percussive Arts Society and a number of major publishers.
6. Norton Manual of Music Notation
I often feel that I am a better computer notation user because I grew up notating music in the pre-computer days. As a student at school and university, I hand-wrote all of my assignments and I quickly learnt about spacing musical objects, alignment rules and drawing clean-looking note heads. If you want to get back to the basics of notating music by hand, this guide is a good primer.
Like Gardner Read’s Music Notation, Kurt Stone’s classic is a fairly “heavy” music text reference book. Although it has not been updated since its publication in 1980, it still provides valuable information for contemporary “art” composers and orchestrators and 20th century-style notation.
I’ve left out a few of the classic texts which refer heavily to pre-computer (ie. paper, pencil and ink) techniques. Are there any other reference books you think should be included?
Disclosure: please note that the links above are affiliate links and I will earn a (very) small commission if you purchase through those links. I own all of the books listed and personally recommend them. Any earnings will support the continuation of this site and I thank you very much!
Image: Flickr – Flowery LUTZA