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soapfoot

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Posts: 7,207 Member Since: 04/02/2011

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Apr 1 17 1:55 PM

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In the course of producing records I actually end up using standard notation a lot, even though many folks don't use it at all. I also end up reading it quite a bit, even though many guitarists don't read at all, either.

I wrote this to hopefully help some folks who may be less-experienced with standard notation write a clean, readable chart. For some reason I thought it might be nice to share it on PRW.  Cheers!

http://flypaper.soundfly.com/write/writing-successful-notation/

brad allen williams

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seth

Ruby Baby

Posts: 5,531 Member Since:26/01/2011

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Apr 1 17 3:41 PM

Excellent article, Brad. As someone who has been handed everything from an indecipherable chart written by the busiest copyist/contractor in NY in the 80's to a chart with accidentals written after the notes and being asked why I was making all the little slides, charts for bass written all in treble clef, charts written outside my range, impossible slides, to a chart for something that looked like a James Taylor song written on notebook paper with a producer who wanted it to sound like Prince, you make all the good points. I've gotten sketches from a former TV bandleader (Not Paul Schaffer, a great musician and a great guy) for nine instruments from which he expected me to extract the bass part. I made sure I was busy the next time he called me. And it was a shame, because the music was fun and not particularly difficult to play, he was just too cheap to have good charts written from the sketches. I would only add that making the form visible and comprehensible at a glance helps players to approach a song as a song rather than as a chart. I would also add that I'd rather have a clear, well-written 9-page chart than a poorly written, cramped, confusing two pager with a roadmap like a treasure hunt.

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soapfoot

Ruby Baby

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Apr 1 17 4:05 PM

seth wrote:
I would also add that I'd rather have a clear, well-written 9-page chart than a poorly written, cramped, confusing two pager with a roadmap like a treasure hunt.

A fair point!

I think for me it's a balancing act, most times. If it's an hour-long through-composed piece, it's going to have a bunch of pages and that's just a fact of life and I'll deal. What gets frustrating to me is when it's a 3 minute verse-chorus type of song but it takes six pages because there are two measures on a line and five lines on a page.

brad allen williams

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seth

Ruby Baby

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Apr 1 17 9:08 PM

Agreed. I hate that as much as the reverse: seven tiny bars on one line, eight on the next, the whole song fits on one page but if you take your eyes off the page for a second you're screwed.

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chance

Aqua Marine

Posts: 2,634 Member Since:30/01/2011

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Apr 1 17 10:07 PM

the Sibelius music notation software is pretty much an industry standard today, and looks perfect on the pages. I still prefer to write out a score in pencil and paper "first", then transfer it

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panman

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Posts: 527 Member Since:04/02/2011

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Apr 2 17 6:24 AM

Nice Brad! I have to admire the compactness of the article. All good tips to keep in mind. Just need to add one thing. It is not good to have long brakes using the softwares. I used to arrange music regularly for steelbands before, but due to several reasons I quit doing it for five years. Lately I agreed to do a couple of arrangements again. I was always using Finale before and so it was Finale this time too, but I had forgotten how it works and had a hard time with it and in the end pushed with deadlines could not get all the details and forms in as I wanted to.

Esa Tervala

Last Edited By: panman Apr 2 17 2:22 PM. Edited 1 time.

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seth.lucasmicrophone

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Posts: 28 Member Since:03/10/2013

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Apr 2 17 8:27 AM

Esa, if it took you five years to forget Finale you're doing fine. I use Pro Tools, Sibelius, and Photoshop on a regular basis and it takes me about a month of not using one to forget how it works.

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demiana

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Posts: 476 Member Since:18/02/2011

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Apr 3 17 7:47 AM

Great article, Brad!

I am curious about one thing you mention that I haven't encountered before, which is the use of '-1' to indicate that a note should cut off at a bar line. Where does that come from? I don't recall ever having seen it before.

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maarvold

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Apr 3 17 8:51 AM

Although I used to support myself as a musician, it had been MANY years since I had written any charts.  I wrote out two fairly simple rhythm section charts in Sibelius 'Lite'.  It was for an informal 4th of July jam band and I wanted it to go well.  It was eye-opening to me the amount of concentration and questions asked required to get the charts to an easily-legible and clean-looking state.  Great article.  

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seth.lucasmicrophone

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#11 [url]

Apr 3 17 5:43 PM

The learning curve for Sibelius is steep, but once you grab it and make your own house styles it gets much faster. Demiana, I've never seen that either. I've always seen the last note in the measure tied across the bar line to an eighth note to indicate getting off on the downbeat but holding until the downbeat. Pablo Casals wrote an entire book on articulation, it's a study in itself.

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soapfoot

Ruby Baby

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Apr 3 17 8:18 PM

Interesting! The cutoff thing might be regional differences. That was a standard way of doing it at NorthTexas when I was in school there, and I've just kind of carried it with me ever since. It seems to get results, so I guess I never really considered that it isn't universal! 

 

brad allen williams

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soapfoot

Ruby Baby

Posts: 7,207 Member Since:04/02/2011

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Apr 5 17 12:55 PM

bob olhsson wrote:
The reason for the Nashville number charts was that singers would come off the road to record having never heard the songs before and the best key was often a complete unknown.

Yes, and it's a VERY good system for material that's mostly diatonic in nature!

Of course, the system breaks down if the harmony becomes too chromatic. Simple modulations are fine, of course (you can just say "new key"). But if you need to write a chart for something like Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You", the Nashville system becomes a cumbersome mess.

 

brad allen williams

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seth.lucasmicrophone

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#17 [url]

Apr 6 17 9:06 AM

It might help to make a distinction between 'reading music' and 'sight-reading', which is a separate skill IMO and has different requirements for chart-writing. Number charts are great for sight-reading because they give the optimal amount of information to the player, assuming the song lends itself to number charts. I wouldn't want to see a number chart for "Moment's Notice". Too much information is as hard to decode as too little, so giving a published piano/vocal chart with guitar chord symbols to a bass player is a PITA to sight-read. The job of an arranger is to help the artist conceive of the form and layout of a song as it applies to an ensemble, and expressing it clearly in a score. He gives the score to a copyist who then extracts the parts for the individual players. These days the few copyists who are left use Sibelius or Finale.

My greatest issue these days is that inexperienced people tend to make the notes and chord symbols too small for people with old eyes. I make them as large as I can without making the chart look cluttered, typically 16 pts (minimum!) for text or chord names and 7.5mm for staffs to be sight-read. Most musicians can kvetch about a particular chart for one reason or another, but I've never given charts to horn players without someone pointing out how I could have written the chart better. So do your best and expect complaining.

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soapfoot

Ruby Baby

Posts: 7,207 Member Since:04/02/2011

#18 [url]

Apr 6 17 9:21 AM

seth wrote:
It might help to make a distinction between 'reading music' and 'sight-reading', which is a separate skill IMO and has different requirements for chart-writing. Number charts are great for sight-reading because they give the optimal amount of information to the player, assuming the song lends itself to number charts. I wouldn't want to see a number chart for "Moment's Notice". Too much information is as hard to decode as too little, so giving a published piano/vocal chart with guitar chord symbols to a bass player is a PITA to sight-read. The job of an arranger is to help the artist conceive of the form and layout of a song as it applies to an ensemble, and expressing it clearly in a score. He gives the score to a copyist who then extracts the parts for the individual players. These days the few copyists who are left use Sibelius or Finale.

My greatest issue these days is that inexperienced people tend to make the notes and chord symbols too small for people with old eyes. I make them as large as I can without making the chart look cluttered, typically 16 pts (minimum!) for text or chord names and 7.5mm for staffs to be sight-read. Most musicians can kvetch about a particular chart for one reason or another, but I've never given charts to horn players without someone pointing out how I could have written the chart better. So do your best and expect complaining.

GREAT points as usual.

One other thing to add, that I probably should've mentioned in the article, is that different instrumentalists expect to see different things.

Clef and key signature on each line is fairly commonplace for string players, but horn or rhythm players don't want to see it. String players have different ideas about ideal music spacing and layout, too... typically they seem much less concerned in my experience with clues to form, and more concerned with immediate readability of each individual bar. For a rhythm chart or even a horn chart, I might sacrifice the latter in favor of the former, but for string players I'd sacrifice the former for the latter.

Also, one area where I'm totally deficient is slurs and bowings for string players. If you right four sixteenth notes with articulations on each note, that's not enough, and that's a mistake I make a lot (fresh in my mind; just recorded six of my string arrangements on Monday). They need to know if they're supposed to be slurred, detaché, etc.

Also, I've tried specifying cutoffs for string players and they just look at me quizzically, whereas EVERY horn player I've ever written for knows what I mean. 

brad allen williams

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