Woodshedding: checking the score

The work commenced seven blogs ago, where I began an experiment with the Fibonacci series as a source of chords, scales and rhythms, was put aside for a while. It’s often a good idea to do this (not always possible in commercial situations) when the process of writing begins to lose the joy of ‘discovery’ (and I don’t want to delve further into the implications of that statement here).

But there’s an extra reason.

In experimental work of this kind the familiar hierarchy of chord families and their interrelationships is lacking, a situation that brings with it the danger of producing solutions that are more constructed than created (and I don’t want to delve into that here, either).

Overall, I was pleased with what I heard in the playback from the notation program, assisted by the use of a better sound font. My claim in the book that knowledge of the control of musical resources will produce results that would not be produced by ‘blind’ intuition alone has been strongly reinforced and the effect of some passages in the composition is stunningly different.

The deletion of two x four bar bridge passages has resulted from my self-imposed lay-off. They were embarrassingly twee, heard with my fresh ears and, in any case, the piece flows better without them.

Annoyingly, checking the extracted band parts revealed omissions and errors in the score, which had already been checked through. With more complex scores, especially for full orchestra (as this one), it makes sense to leave the final print out of the score until last, checking parts against the pencil-corrections and making further corrections on the way. Second generation amendments can be marked in a different colour.

There were cases where sections of the orchestra did not have beginning or ending dynamics. There were also cases where the instruction for the strings to play without vibrato, or pizz., had not been cancelled and one situation where the horns, which had been muted, were not asked to play open. Nothing life threatening, but we’re aiming at a high standard of presentation. My methodically ticked-off quality control check-list is proving itself!

Although separate parts are provided for each player, the clarinets, flutes, horns, trombones, bassoons and trumpets have one stave per section to save vertical space and arrive at a generous print size. Opposite tails were only used where the rhythm of each part is different. Hand-editing will be needed in the extracted parts. I don’t like combined voices in band parts.

The first violins are split (divisi) into double 3rds at one point, requiring the two sets, with their differing rests, to be combined on one stave using the ‘voices’ provided in the program. These are independent ‘layers’ that can be selected for individual treatment. The two lots of 3rds are divided between left and right desks, in the conventional manner. An added complication is that the septuplet run-ups to the sustained note, in thirds, overlap and then end on a trill. The second (answering) septuplet occurs under the trill, in thirds, already being played by the first part. I was unable to control the sound of the trill with sufficient detail in my program, so the effect had to be written in full notation, which stretched my skill, and the program, to the limit. The integrity of the layers isn’t up to the job, either. At one point, I had to input the notes an octave lower and then individually nudge them up with the direction arrows.

I wrote some conductor notes, including a mention that the open key signature in the piano part is intentional;  anything that might be useful to someone who has never seen or heard the composition before. This forms the first right hand page of the score rather like the title page of a book and turns over to the first page of music. Page 1 of the music is on the left and 2 on the right and so on.

Two columns of type side by side were chosen as the typographic layout. The two column format gives shorter line lengths. Long lines are harder to read since there’s a tendency for the eye to miss a line as it scans back to the left.

Ugly ‘rivers’ of white space can occur with justified text in very narrow columns (or ‘measures’), running down vertically through the even grey of the text. Judicious hyphenation and kerning/tracking will solve the problem in most cases. The narrower the measure the more likely the problem is to arise but some typefaces, such as Times Roman, are designed especially for the narrow columns prevalent in newspapers. If you use the left aligned (ranged left) format the problem doesn’t arise.

My printer can’t handle large paper sizes but assembling the score can use one of two methods. Either print on A4 (or American letter, which  is shorter and fatter) and then enlarge on a photocopier or print out in a horizontal (landscape) format and tack the top and bottom halves together before copying same-size. Enlarging will not cause quality issues with the final image where 600 dpi resolution (or better) is used.


Some orchestral parts extend to 3 and 4 pages, so the parts had to be edited to ensure that a rest, or compressed group of rests, allowed time for players to turn the page. In some cases this left a half page or more of blank space.  With some instruments, the part begins on the cover and turns over to a double page centre spread and in others the V.S.* is at the end of the right hand page, with a continuation on to the back. The string parts are double pages front and back.

Sometimes this rearrangement of the flow of bars just can’t be done so a third page has to be taped to the double page. This is often the case in rhythm section parts in jazz arrangements where there are no bars rest or their duration is too short to allow time to turn over. I don’t like taping published parts together if I can help it but this has to be judged alongside my desire to produce good, generous sized, legible parts. Years ago I attended a Stan Kenton concert in my home town and clearly remember the bassist cleverly man-handling a part that must have been ten feet long.

*V.S., literally translated, means ‘turn over suddenly’ but the marking is often used as a convenient abbreviation.


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