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[All] Create a score that you can easily coming back even if you get lost during performance

When I was at Berklee College of Music, one of the things that my seniors taught me that became extremely useful later in the performance was the know-how to rewrite readsheets and part scores using music notation software to make them easier for me to read.

By using music notation software, you can freely change the layout of your score. The idea was to take advantage of this feature and devise an optimal layout according to the structure of a particular piece of music.

As an example, let's take "All The Things You Are", which is one of the most popular standard songs in jazz jam sessions.

This song has a standard 8-bar intro which has a semitone chord progression, and the typical structure is to play the theme, then return to the intro again as the ending.

  • Intro: 8 bars with auftact

    • A section: 8 measures

    • B section: 8 measures

    • C section: 8 measures

    • D section: 12 bars

  • Ending: 8 bars same as intro

The theme is 8+8+8+12=36 bars, and is characterized by an irregular AABA-style structure with the last section being 4 bars longer than usual.

Some of published read sheets don’t have rehearsal marks, and if you don’t know the song at all and try to play it for the first time using a read sheet without rehearsal marks, the irregular structure of the sheet often results in getting lost*.

(*Lost: Losing track of where you are playing on the music score while playing.)

In order to fit it onto a single A4 sheet of paper, you might want to push 5 measures intro into one row, and since the ending is the same as the intro, you don’t need to write it again, and return it to the first measure with dalsegno. Then you can create a read sheet like the one below, as you saw in the video at the beginning of the article.

However, if you fit 11 columns onto a single sheet of A4 paper, the width of the system will naturally become narrower, so you will have to read each system all the way to the right and immediately return to the leftmost position of the next system repeatedly, then there may be times when you don't know which step is next. This problem is more likely to occur as the tempo increases, and is a major cause of “getting lost”.

So how can we avoid such trouble? As one way to do this, we will try to write a score by dividing each section of the song into blocks, clearly indicating the structure of the song, and arranging them graphically.

(1) Divide the intro, theme, and ending into blocks

First of all, the intro and ending (Coda), which you see just once at the beginning and once at the end, should be placed separately from the 36-bar theme. Specifically, make the system margins just below the intro and above the ending a little larger than the others.

In order to make this "intro, theme, ending" structure even clearer, the left and right indents of the system for the theme part is also slightly larger than for the system for the intro and ending.

This makes it easier to see the 36-bar theme section as a separate block, and allows you to concentrate on playing the theme after the intro.

In addition, by increasing the left and right indents, the width of the system becomes smaller, and the distance of the eyes movement from right and left will be a bit shortened.

(2) Divide the four sections that make up the theme into different blocks

The 36-bar theme is further divided into four sections ABCD, but by laying out each section so that it can be seen as an independent block, the risk of getting lost is reduced, and even if you get lost, you can return to the right position quickly*.

(* “Lost” may occur unavoidably due to a decline in concentration after playing for a long time etc., but it is actually more important to be able to recover instantly if it happens.)

One way to do this is to separate the rehearsal mark area from the measure area by arranging the rehearsal marks as far away from the left bar line as possible in a vertical line.

Furthermore, by placing a system separator at the bottom right of each section, individual sections are further divided into blocks, making it easier to distinguish them from other sections.

If you adjust the layout by “writing with the music structure clearly stated” as in (1) and (2) above, compared to the “writing in which all systems are evenly spaced” as shown at the beginning, you can write a read sheet like this.


What I have discussed above is just one way of thinking, there are many other things that could be considered to improve the readability of music scores. You could change the size of the staff, add color to specific musical score elements, surround them with shapes, or add arrows, and so on.

In order to get such ideas, I think one effective way is to ask your bandmates show you the hand-marked scores, or to compare different commercially available scores for the same song.

For example, for the lead sheet for “All The Things You Are,” which we featured this time, “THE COLORADO COOKBOOK” uses a writing style that divides the introduction and theme into blocks, as introduced in (1) above.

BTW, I once had an opportunity to talk to Mr. Tetsuo Sakurai about the know-how of creating music scores that are easy to read at recording sessions and on stage. I have summarized the story from that time in an interview article, please check it out if you are more interested in this topic.

▼Introducing professional Finale templates Part 3 Tetsuo Sakurai (bassist, composer and arranger)

“What is sheet music specialized for jazz/fusion/rock performance?”



The finale intensive course is being held in parallel on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings. Click on the banner below for details. (Lecture is given in Japanese. ) 

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