the score in western music
an image of the original handwritten score from
Waltzing Matilda, called by some the second
national anthem of Australia.
the score of Waltzing Matilda. See what a
genuine musical score looks like. Follow the music
and lyrics in the score as you hear it played. While
you do, learn a bit of its history.
The Muse Of Music invites you to explore the role of the score in modern Western
notation systems and in music of the Western tradition.
the musical score in western music
In sports they say you can't follow the players or the game without a
scorecard. In a similar manner, in music they say you can't follow the
music without the score. What is a musical score?
What's a score?
specific musical score is a written record of a single piece of music. With
few exceptions it contains all the
music notes and directions a musician needs to play the piece of music it represents.
When the musician plays, she translates the written symbols on the
score—symbols that represent the recorded music—into actions she needs to
take to play her instrument.
In effect, a musical score is the music.
Following the score—The Performer
We say that a performing artist follows
a score when
or performs a specific piece of music; by that, we mean that a musician
translates the notes and musical directions she sees in a score into music by
manipulating an instrument. She follows the notes and directions placed
there by the composer.
By appropriately manipulating the instrument, she converts the symbols
she reads in the score into the sounds that can be heard, sounds which are
the piece of music. This translation takes place whether the instrument is
her voice or a manufactured apparatus for producing musical sounds, such as a violin, organ, or piano.
We say that a composer scores a piece of music when he writes or
composes it. A musical score represents a composer's musical composition in
the following manner:
First a composer draws staves on a page of music, one stave under the
other down a page. Or he uses pages that contain pre-printed staves. Staves
can be drawn or printed on successive pages if a piece of music requires
too many staves to fit on a single page.
A stave, also called a staff, is a set of parallel horizontal lines.
Modern scores contain staves composed of five lines with four corresponding
spaces between them. One stave represents the music to be played by a
single instrument or soloist, but a stave can also represent music to be
played by more than one instrument if all the instruments play exactly the
same music together, as a group.
Next, a composer adds notes and directions to the staves. The notes,
directions, and staves on a page or pages comprise the score. These
recorded vocal and instrumental notes on staves indicate what music the
composer has created and what performers must play or sing to recreate the
composer's musical ideas. Together, the staves, notes, and directions
represent all the vocal and instrumental parts that musicians will
translate into actions they take on instruments when they play what the
composer has written.
Following the score—The Audience
The performing musician isn't the only one who follows the score.
Serious listeners follow the music they are hearing by reading the score
while an orchestra or soloist performs. The score helps them confirm what
their ears are telling them about how and what individual musicians or
groups of musicians are playing; it helps them interpret the composer's
Opera buffs are particularly interested in following a score while they
watch a performance because it informs them about the characters who are
singing at any moment and the words they are pronouncing. It also helps
them understand how the words and music interact and work together to
express the composer's ideas. It helps them interpret and separate the
different melodic lines and words that are simultaneously sung by two or
more characters in duets, trios, or quartets, or when groups of soloists
are accompanied by a chorus.
Trained music buffs, music store owners or clerks, music students,
scholars, and others read scores the way most people read books.
Accomplished score readers "hear" the music in their heads. theycan pick
up a score sight unseen, read it, and hear the music as if were being
played—even if they never heard it before—the
way others pick up a novel and understand what the author is saying,
starting with the first page.
Reading and following scores—More about
A scorecard indicates the teams and the people who are playing ball and
their past performances. A musical score indicates the actions a musician
needs to take to play or sing a piece of music.
A baseball scorecard is
typically printed on paper or on a similar medium, as are many musical
scores. But musical scores are often also stored in and displayed on computers.
At a game baseball fans keep track of player stats and team scores as the
innings go by; they enter box scores in their scorecard. Musicians often
write comments on their scores while they are learning or practicing a
piece; they make notes to help them remember how they want to play.
Most often musicians follow a printed score whenever they play, practice, or
learn to play a piece of music; they look at the pages on which it is
printed while they perform. We say that a musician reads the music
because she reads the notes and directions on the score and follows them while she is
Once a musician learns a piece by reading
the score, she may be able to play the piece from memory, without looking at
the score again, if it is not too long or complex. In that case, she remembers what she originally learned
when first she read and learned the score. The fingering of her instrument
and the melody are etched in her brain.
Soloists especially sometimes memorize a piece of music and play it
before an audience without looking at or thinking about a score. In cases
like these, the performer doesn't remember the notes or how they looked on
a page when she learned them; the score has been transformed into pure
music that's stored in her brain. The actions she takes to play are
automatic and she knows what keys or valves to depress or what words to
sing without thinking about them. We say that the music is in her head or
that it's in her fingers.
more About scores with missing notes and directions
Not all scores contain all the notes
and directions that a musician needs to play. This fact was pointed out above
in the section called What's A Score?
weren't referring to parts of a composer's score that might be missing because
some or all of his score is lost or damaged. We were referring to scores from
which a composer deliberately omits portions of his piece, and he knows when
he writes his music that his entire piece
cannot be played without them.
Why would a composer deliberately write a piece of
music like this? There are two kinds of music where a composer might
deliberately write an incomplete score:
cadenzas and jazz; and the answers to this question are different for each
scores and Notation systems in western music
When it comes to scores, a musical notation system is a sine qua non;
no score can exist without one. Every musical score is written in the language of a given
musical notation system. What is a musical notation system?
Any musical notation system is a specific system for writing music. In a
sense, musical notation systems exist to allow people to write scores for
others to read, remember, and play, and for no other reason.
A musical notation system is similar to a written language. The musical
notes and directions in a score are similar to the words and sentences on
the pages of a book. To be able to read a book, one must understand the
language in which it is written; to be able to read a score, one must
understand the musical notation system in which it is written.
As a musician plays a score, he is said to read or follow
the score, much as a reader reads or follows the words on the pages of a
book. The musician's brain translates the musical symbols and other
directions written in the score into physical movements by which he
manipulates his instrument, causing it to produce the sounds specified on
and by the score. The word score is used to describe the music itself
because of this close mental association between the written symbols in a
score and the music that is played.
- Explore the concept of musical notation systems at The Muse Of Music's
page called Welcome To Music Notation:
- Explore Western Music and the nature of the musical score in Western
music at The Muse Of Music's page called Welcome To Western Music Notation:
As with written languages, musical notation systems vary according to the
culture, nationality, and musical tradition in which they originate. A score
written to express the music of a specific culture or nationality will
usually employ a notation system developed by that culture because the score
must be able to represent the sounds, musical styles, instruments, and words
that are inimitable to the culture's native musical tradition. If the score
were not written with the native notation system, it would be unable to
express the indigenous music of that culture and it would not be readable by
a musician native to the culture. The notation systems and scores of Eastern
cultures, for example, are radically different than those of Western
cultures in part because their music is so different.
It is important to keep in mind that the pages you are now reading treat
scores that represent music of the Western tradition. Other traditions have
their own notation systems and ways of relating to scores. Some traditions
are aural; they do not write music and consequently do not employ scores.
There's nothing like an example to drive home an idea. The Muse invites
you to Explore the score of Waltzing Matilda. See what a genuine
musical score looks like. Follow the music and lyrics in the score. Learn a
bit of the song's history as you go.
Continue your exploration of musical scores at these web sites:
- Explore the world of music scores at at the International Music
Score Library Project (IMSLP). Obtain free public domain scores:
- At IMSLP, see an extensive, current list of web sites, libraries,
universities, music schools, databases, manuscript libraries,
repositories, collections, and archives that provide sheet music or
scores free, hold them in repositories or collections, or sell them:
- See an extensive, out-of-date but still viable list of web sites,
libraries, universities, music schools, databases, manuscript libraries,
repositories, collections, and archives that provide sheet music or
scores free, hold them in repositories or collections, or sell them.
- Explore the Petrucci Music library of public domain scores that you
It's all there, waiting for you in the score.
As with sports, so with music: You can't read the score card without learning the words.
Musical terminology is an important part of any music notation system. The Muse invites you to explore the following pages at Electricka's web site.
- Explore music terminology at The Muse Of Music's page called Music Terminology:
the glossary of
The Muse Of Music is pleased to offer you an extensive automated glossary
of musical terms designed to assist anyone interested in looking up the
meaning of a musical term, whether a professional, amateur, or non-professional. It
takes the form of a searchable and sortable table containing hundreds of
musical words, signs, symbols, and their definitions.
The Glossary is divided into two sections:
page called About The Glossary Of Musical Terms that explains the
Glossary and how to use it. If you are accessing the Glossary for the
first time, The Muse recommends that you visit this page first:
Glossary Of Musical Terms itself in the form of an automated table. If you
are familiar with the Glossary and have used it before, you are ready to
look up a word now:
This book demystifies and explains the subject progressively, as you read
it. It will inform
you about the various types of scores and their uses, the historical
development of scores, the visual appearances of scores and the various
kinds of notation they use, the techniques of following a score, and about
orchestras and their conductors. There are practice examples of increasing
difficulty taken from scores of well-known works from various periods.
To hear as you read, you will have to supply your own recorded music.
This book will help you whether you play an instrument or just like to
listen. But before you buy, you might want to check to see if you know
enough about musical notation to profit from it. This book is for people who
already know how to read music and who want to follow along while the music
plays. It's for those who are interested in orchestral music (where a full
orchestra is playing), not in soloists or small ensembles. You'll have to judge for
yourself whether the level and focus of this text is right for you.