Music Preparation Guidelines for Composers

The following guidelines pertain to book design for music publications (i.e., scores and parts). They are a good starting point for most pieces, but instrumentation and the specific details of each work will dictate which choices to make.

General Comments

  • Scores must be engraved (computer or by hand): i.e. no illegible sketches.
  • Each measure (bar) should be numbered at the beginning of each staff system, beginning anew with each movement. Placement of measure numbers should be the same throughout the work, i.e. above, the top staff, or on a special line of the grand staff, such as above the first violins.
  • Rehearsal letters (if used) should correspond to musical landmarks and must be used in conjunction with—not instead of—measure numbers.
  • Clefs and key signatures (if used) must appear at the beginning of each staff.
  • Care should be taken with the use of the abbreviations 8va and 8vb, avoiding their use if possible. They are sometimes acceptable in C scores to save space, almost never in orchestral parts, except for piano or other keyboard parts. They are generally useful for a span of more than three notes with three or more ledger lines.

Front Matter

Title Page

  • Title
  • Composer
  • Lyricist (if applicable)
  • Short instrumentation (e.g. for Orchestra)
  • Description (e.g. TRANSPOSED SCORE, C SCORE, or Flute I)
  • Name of publishing company, if applicable (centered on the bottom)
  • Note that title pages are generally only used for scores or very large parts and not usually used for most orchestral or chamber parts.

Notes page(s)

  • Full title of work, printed as it would appear in a formal concert program, including appropriate capitalization and diacritical markings, along with movement titles in their proper order.
  • Full instrumentation (for orchestra works) including doublings and percussion instruments
  • Duration
  • Commissioning credit
  • First performance
  • Program Notes (recommended)
  • Describe any deviations from standard musical notation.
  • Describe any specific staging instructions. Detailed diagrams are helpful to illustrate particularly complex staging.
  • Describe any special equipment, synthesizer settings, or other technical requirements (also note these details on the cover page of the instrument’s part). Instructions should be as specific and as understandable as possible.
  • Include any special instructions for “prepared instruments” or other uncommon instruments. (also note these details on the cover page of the instrument’s part).

First Page of Music

  • Title
  • Movement title, if applicable
  • Composer
  • Year composed (optional)
  • Duration (usually on score only)
  • Lyricist (if applicable)
  • Short instrumentation (e.g. for Orchestra)
  • Description (e.g. (FULL SCORE, or Flute I)
  • Name of publishing company (centered on the bottom).
  • Copyright Information, e.g. Copyright © 2018 Tyler Smith (ASCAP or BMI)

Page Sizes, Orientation, Margins, Etc.

Note: page size equivalents are listed below. Visit this site for detailed explanations for international paper sizes.

  • In general, the four major sizes for music are 9 x 12" (folio size, used for parts and some scores, equivalent to UK/EU paper size C4), 11 x 17" (UK/EU A3) or 11 x 14" UK/EU B4) (scores, and very rarely, parts), and 8.5 x 11" (UK/EU A4) (choral scores/parts). 10 x 13" is roughly equivalent the the European size B4, but is mostly unavailable in the U.S. and does not always fit into orchestral folders. 10 x 13 is also difficult to print.
  • 9 x 12" (12 x 18" Tabloid Extra size folded in half) is an ideal size for most parts and even many scores. Although 9 x 12 (UK/EU C4) is the preferable size for parts, they may be printed on 8.5 x 11 (UK/EU A4) paper (i.e., 11 x 17 [UK/EU A3] folded and stapled-bound) as a last resort.
  • It is strongly recommended that you never set up scores or parts in landscape fashion, for a variety of reasons, unless your music is graphically notated, or the pages are meant to be slide from left to right, such as with some marimba solos.

Scores

  • 9 x 12 (UK/EU C4), 11 x 17”  (UK/EU A3) or 11 x 14” (UK/EU B4) (for smaller ensembles) Staff size 4 mm. to 6 mm.
  • Margins: sides .75” (1.905 cm); top/bottom .5” (1.27 cm)
  • First page of music (scores and parts) should have a copyright notice centered on the bottom of the page
  • All tempo indications should appear above the top staff and above the first violin line on each score page.
  • Instrumental scores (not choral scores) may be optimized (empty staves removed) to save space, and to fit more systems per page.
  • C scores and transposed scores are both acceptable, each has advantages and disadvantages. C scores are sometimes more useful for highly complex, keyless, and/or non-tonal music (i.e., New Complexity, 12-tone, etc.) . One of the drawbacks to C scores is that some transposing instruments will necessitate more ledger lines, which can look a little cluttery and cause the staves to take up too much vertical space on the page. Conversely, transposed scores allow more of the material to appear in the staff, creating a tighter-looking score. Most conductors can easily read transposed scores and are quite used to them, especially since they are more common for older, traditional music, through the Romantic era. These days, it’s a toss-up, depending on your style. Whether it’s a C score or transposed, you need to indicate that on the first page (usually upper left-hand corner).

Piano/vocal Scores

  • 9 x 12” (UK/EU B4), 7 mm. staff
  • Margins: sides .75” (1.905 cm); top/bottom .5” (1.27 cm)

Choral Scores

  • 8.5 x 11” (UK/EU A4), 5 mm. staff
  • Margins: .5” (1.27 cm) all around

Chamber Scores

  • 9 x 12” (UK/EU B4), 7 mm. staff. Although 9 x 12 is the preferable size for chamber scores, they may be 8.5 x 11 (i.e., 11 x 17 folded and stapled-bound) as a last resort. (UK/EU equivalent is A3 for 11 x 17" and A2 for 11 x 17" folded)
  • Margins: sides .75” (1.905 cm); top/bottom .5” (1.27 cm)
  • Solo instrument(s) with piano: make the solo instrument staves 60% of the standard size (7 mm.).

Parts

  • 9 x 12” (UK/EU B4), 7 mm. staff. Although 9 x 12 is the preferable size for chamber scores, they may be 8.5 x 11 (i.e., 11 x 17 folded and stapled-bound) as a last resort. (UK/EU equivalent is A3 for 11 x 17" and A2 for 11 x 17" folded)
  • Margins: sides .75” (1.905 cm); top/bottom .5” (1.27 cm)
  • The first page of each part must have the instrument name.
  • All subsequent pages must have a small header at the top indicating the instrument name. Please don’t forget to do this. So, for example: PIECE NO. 1 – Piccolo. Please don’t forget to do this.
  • All odd-numbered (righthand) pages must have page turns.
  • If a part begins on page 2 (for page turns) please include a title page as page 1.
  • In some cases 11 x 14” (or UK/EU B4) parts are acceptable in order to accommodate music that has serious page turn problems, but they should be avoided if at all possible for orchestral parts. It’s better to have 2-3 staves per page to accommodate a page turn than to resort to 11 x 14” (or UK/EU B4) parts.
  • In some cases foldouts are acceptable, but only as a last resort.
  • If parts and notated using a computer software program, they should be completely computer generated, without any handwritten additions.
  • Logical cues are expected during long periods of rest, the cues being transposed to the reading key of the instrument. Cues must be audible to the musician reading the part. Generally, if there are 8 or more measures of rest for bars with the same meter (and even if there are different meters), you should probably add a cue.
  • Tempo and meter changes must shown on all parts, even during periods of extended rest. The use of “Tacet until. . .” is not acceptable.
  • Pay careful attention to the placement of page turns; build blank pages into the parts to facilitate turns. Each blank page should include a phrase such as "Blank Page for Page Turn" to indicate that the blank page isn't a missing page of music.

Page Numbering

  • Odd-numbered pages on the right (recto); Even-numbered pages on the left (verso). There are never any exceptions to this rule.
  • In music, we do not count the front matter (pages before the music starts). The first page of music is page 1, and the rest of the book should continue sequentially. The convention is to put page numbers in the top “outside” corners; odd numbers on the right, even numbers on the  left.
  • If you have a large number of pages in the front matter (e.g., more than 4-6 pp.), they are numbered with lower-case roman numerals, centered at the bottom of the page.
  • The first page number is never shown (e.g., page 1 or page i).

Measure Numbering and Rehearsal Letters

  • Measure numbers should be stated at the start of every system, at the top, in italic, at a point size that's readable. It is not necessary to number every bar or number every 5 or 10 bars.
  • Rehearsal letters may be used for large scores such as operas or larger symphonic works.
  • Numbering each measure should be avoided, except in the case of multi-measure rests, where measure number ranges are helpful (e.g., “27–117”) or in orchestral scores, in which each measure may include a measure number at the top (or less likely, the bottom) of the score.

Typefaces

  • Tempo indications (above the staff) are in a serif font like Times, bold, 14 pt.
  • Tempo alterations (like rit. and accel.) are the same size, either italic or Times, bold, 14 pt.
  • Title, composer, lyricist.These are usually in a different font, usually a serif font, like Times New Roman, Garamond, Goudy, or Caslon. Whichever font you use, that same font should be used for page numbers, header text at the top of pages, and for the front matter.
  • Page numbers on large-format scores, i.e., 11 x 14 (UK/EU B4) or 11 x 17 (UK/EU A3) should be 12 pt. so that they are visible when printed as smaller study scores.
  • Technique text (above the staff) is Times New Roman, plain, same font as tempo indications.
  • Expression text (below or above the staff) is Times New Roman, italic.
  • Plantin or another similar font may be substituted for Times New Roman. If another font is substituted, it should be used consistently across the entire work; never use both Plantin and Times New Roman, for example. It is always best to use as few fonts as possible, but different styles within a font family (plain, bold, italic, wide or narrow versions of the same font) are perfectly acceptable, when appropriate.

Specific Instrument Comments

Strings

  • String parts should be created with one part per section. Complicated string divisions should be written on separate staves. Avoid dividing the music for the string section into multiple parts unless necessitated by multiple and continuous division of the voices.

Winds and Brass

  • Avoid creating wind and brass parts with multiple parts on a single stave (e.g. Flutes 1 and 2 must be separate parts).

Harp

  • Harp pedaling should generally be left to the performer, except for an initial pedal diagram at the beginning of a work, beginning of a movement, after a very long span of rests, or after a lot of pedal changes. When in doubt, leave harp pedalings out.

Percussion and Timpani

  • The Timpani part should NOT be included in the percussion part. Timpanists should never be asked to play other percussion instruments.
  • Percussion parts should include a list of the instruments required.
  • Percussion parts may be in score form or individual instrumental parts. Each has its advantages depending on the requirements of the music. Consult with an experienced orchestral percussionist.
  • Percussion instruments should be notated on the staff from high to low, according to their relative pitch. These positions must be maintained consistently throughout the work. A notation key printed at the beginning of the part may be helpful to the player.
  • In general, metallic instruments such as cymbals are usually written on lines, drums are written on spaces, but this is a loose rule.

Paper

  • The paper for parts should be of substantial quality to avoid show-through of music from the reverse side, to ensure durability, and to stand up to on-stage wind patterns caused by ventilation systems.
  • The minimum requirement is usually 60 or 70 lb. offset paper, but color laser copier paper will work in a pinch.
  • The page layout should allow for comfortable page turns.
  • Fold out pages should be avoided or, if absolutely necessary, used sparingly.

Formatting and Binding

  • Parts and scores should be bound so that they lie flat on the stand.
  • Plastic comb binding should be avoided. Coil binding may be used for scores but not for parts.
  • Ideally, parts should be printed double-sided on large-format, Tabloid Extra sized paper, folded, and stapled.
  • To bind multiple, loose part pages, affix library tape to the left margin of the part. All pages should be attached to the center spine. Loose pages should be taped or attached to the center margin of the spine.
  • Tape: Vital Presentation Concepts Inc. or 3-M Corp. Micropore surgical tape.
  • Accordion fold parts (single-sided sheets taped side-to-side) are not acceptable.

SUGGESTED RESOURCES

All suggested resources are in English; books link to Amazon.

Orchestration & Instrumentation Books

Instrumentation Books: Specific Instruments and Extended Techniques

Notation Books

Music Software and Plugins

Music Printers