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Creating individual parts from a music score

Before we get started:

First, as handy as these tips are, I don't suppose too many people will actually find them, read them, and put them into practice. Please let me know if you've made any use of this page. And, of course, let me know if you have a better system. Thanks.

Secondly, anybody who can make use of the tips here already knows this, but for the sake of self-containment I mention that a music "score" shows the music for all of the instruments involved in a given piece. A "part" shows just the music for a single instrument. For example, the score for a string quartet will show 4 staffs - one each for the 1st violin, 2nd violin, viola and cello - connected by vertical lines at the ends. This connected group of staffs is called a "system". For a musician playing from the score rather than from a part, there would be 4 times as many page turns - and those page turns are even less likely to occur where there is an accommodating gap in the music.

Here we go...

Most musicians know the agony of having to cut and paste individual parts from a music score. It generally takes several - if not many - hours of tedious work to create parts for a piece of music which itself may take only a few minutes to play. Grrr.... How publishers are allowed to issue music in such a format without "Hazardous to your mental health!" warning stickers is beyond me.

But they did, they do, and I'm sure they will. If you've been victimized, there is a form at the bottom of this page to fill out and send to the publisher to vent your spleen.

Here are some tips for producing good-looking parts from a music score. The claim isn't that this method is quick and effortless. That's dreaming. But it's nice to have a game plan when you sit down to do it, and the satisfaction derived from seeing a nice final product may offset some of the outrage at having to do it at all. Anyhow, doing a top-notch job doesn't take any longer than a hack job.

Before we get to the cutting and pasting, here's a bit of "music page theory". The fewer the total number of pages for a player, the easier to deal with, but up to 3 is ok. I find 3 is the maximum a music stand will hold without taking extraordinary and risky measures. Besides, more than 3 pages will have you twisting out of your normal playing position to read the outer pages.

In my experience, parts for a piece of music, or a single movement of a large work, rarely exceed 3 normal-size pages. By "normal-size" I mean what in the U.S. is called "letter-size", which is 8.5 x 11 inch. This is very close to the A4 metric paper size.

I bind my music in booklets using a plastic comb binding machine, and I believe these booklets have many advantages over 3-ring binders. No matter how you bind your music, if the part requires 3 pages, it is easy to glue the 3rd page to the 2nd to make a neat foldout.

If the part will exceed 3 pages, you must come up with some solution. Hopefully, there will be at least one gap in the music long enough to allow a page turn. Plan ahead so the gap occurs at the end of a page, even if it means the page is only partially filled. If the gap occurs in the middle of a staff, cut the staff at that point and start the next page with the remainder of that staff.

You might be able to use the "page shifting" solution. This allows the gap to appear anywhere in the page, but the pages must be kept loose. The player shifts the page to the left during the gap in the music, uncovering the next page, which may have to be shifted itself at some point, etc. I've never liked this method - probably because I despise loose pages - but it can work.

Alternatively, you may be able to fit the music onto 3 oversize pages. Pages up to about 13 inches tall work well on a music stand, but may create binding, storage, transport or copying hassles. Stick with normal-size pages if at all possible.

As a last resort, you might reduce the music to fit it onto 3 normal-size pages. It breaks my heart to have to reduce music from its original size, even if it's still perfectly readable. (On the other hand, I derive great satisfaction at being able to enlarge the music while still keeping it on normal-size paper.)

But, as I said earlier, it's rare when a part will exceed 3 pages, so don't worry about that possibility right now. Let's get down to making parts.

The first step is figuring out what the layout will be, that is, how many staffs you will put on a page. You could just jump in with your cutting and pasting, but you can get much nicer results if you do a quick calculation beforehand.

Count the number of systems in the score. This will equal the number of staffs each part will have. Call that TOTAL_SYSTEMS.

Count the number of staffs (not systems) on a typical page of the score. Call that STAFFS_PER_PAGE.

If you paste up the staffs with the same average separation as on the original score, the number of pages for a part will be


Here's where thinking ahead pays off. For instance, if you calculate that the part will have 2 full pages plus 2 staffs left over on the 3rd page, you will probably want to tighten up the staffs so that you get an extra staff on each page, fitting everything nicely on 2 pages.

Suppose you calculate that the part will fill 1 page plus about a quarter of the 2nd page. If you know there is no way you can cram it all on 1 page, you might as well give yourself some breathing room between staffs and generate 2 pages which are equally filled, more or less.

In my experience, you can usually fit 1 to 3 more staffs on a page than the original score has. Besides utilizing closer spacing, you can go right to the top and bottom of the page - where the publisher probably had wasteful margins.

So now you know what you are shooting for in terms of the number staffs to put on each page of the part.

You first need to photocopy the original for cutting apart, of course. (For the purposes of making a piece of music playable, I hereby declare the photocopying of said music perfectly legal for all time anywhere in the known universe.) You will want a razor-sharp copy since it will have to be copied again later, after we have created the paste-ups. Not to mention, lousy-looking photocopies of music break my heart.

You don't need to be concerned about good margins on these copies; just that nothing is cut off. Unless the size of the original is something quite bizarre, make these copies at 100% magnification; any enlargement or reduction will be handled when the paste-up is copied.

Before you run off to the copy center, there is some drudge work that needs to be done. If they are not already supplied, write in measure numbers on the original score before copying. This is the logical time to do it. Measure numbers are very useful even if the score shows rehearsal letters. I suggest that a measure number placed above the beginning of each staff is the most convenient method. You might want to put them there even if measure numbers already appear somewhere else, such as every 10 measures. Counting measures in a score is somewhat easier than in a part and has the advantage that, even if you do make a mistake, it will hardly matter because you will have the same wrong number at the same point in all of the parts.

Another chore before photocopying is writing in musical instructions that apply to all of the parts but are only shown once for the whole system. For instance, 1st and 2nd endings might only be shown at the top of the system. Or dynamics or a crescendo mark that applies to all parts might only be shown once. Copy them above or below the staffs that need them. Go to the copy center to make a "1st generation" copy of every page of the score.

Now you have copies for cutting up and an idea of the layout for the parts. Here are the other materials and tools you will need:

Scissors (surprise, surprise!)

Liquid Paper "DryLine" adhesive applicator, or equivalent. This transfers a 1/4-inch swath of adhesive similar to that on "Post-It" notes.

Supply of blank, "legal-size" paper. In the U.S., that's what we call paper that is 8.5 x 14 inches. (It's 3 inches taller than the letter-size paper.)

Cutting mat with grid lines, such as by Alvin. (This is not really essential to the operation.)

At long last, after about 150 lines of jabber, we're ready to start chopping paper. The first cuts aren't what you would imagine. Take Page 1 of the score and slice off the left and right margins. Excess paper at the end of the staffs is not necessary and is, in fact, a bother. Skim right along within a millimiter or 2 of the ends of the staffs (i.e., systems.)

In case you're wondering, I have never been able to gainfully employ a paper-cutter in this operation. Everything for me is faster and more controlled with a good pair of scissors.

I'll leave as an exercise to you what you want to do with the title and composer and other information at the top of Page 1 of the score. Cut it off and set it aside for now. Notice you only have one copy of that, but several parts. You might end up pasting it at the beginning of one of the parts, but you can also easily write in the information by hand wherever you want it. After the music is bound (in any manner), you might glue this piece on the back of the 1st page, making a title page.

Now we're starting to roll. Cut along the top of the 1st staff in the 1st system on the page. Do not simply make a straight cut, but follow the contour of the music and whatever musical symbols and instructions are present. Skim as closely as possible to the print with a cut as curvy as you can manage that doesn't significantly slow you down. (For the first staff, this contour-hugging cut isn't necessary, actually, but it generally is for the rest.)

Cut in the same way along the bottom of that staff, skimming closely to the music. All staffs will get the same treatment - a custom cut above and below. Take advantage of these cuts to eliminate things you don't want. For example, you can get rid of all or most of the vertical lines at the ends that connect the staffs together in a system. You can often cut away some of the unwanted fingering information, such as barre symbols and string numbers in guitar music. This is neater and easier than applying white-out correction fluid later.

Now you have the 1st staff of the 1st part in hand. It has no excess margin above, below, to the left, or to the right of the printed music.

Apply adhesive on the back of this strip. All you need is a small patch about a centimeter long in the middle of the strip.

Here are some tips for using the Liquid Paper "DryLine" applicator: The device is designed so that as you roll it along, tape coated with adhesive is pulled out; the adhesive is transferred from the tape to your paper; and the depleted tape is wound back inside on a take-up reel. I find that the device works much, much better if you snip the tape so that it does not get pulled back in. The depleted tape simply curls up on the outside and when it gets in the way, just snip it off.

The applicator also transfers the adhesive better if the surface you are working on has some "give" or sponginess. That is a second use for the cutting pad, but you could simply work on top of a stack of a few sheets of paper.

Now we're ready to position our first staff. Take a sheet of legal-size paper. Lay it on the cutting pad so that it is aligned with the grid.

Position the strip about 2 inches down from the top of the legal-size sheet. This gives us room to shift it up if we find we have room to spare and want to spread the staffs out a bit. More importantly (although this doesn't apply to the 1st page of a part), we might need to transfer a staff from the bottom of the preceding page to the top of this one. Conversely, we might want to shift the top staff from one page to the bottom of the preceding page. Using the legal-size sheets affords us this flexibility.

The horizontal placement is not obvious. You will want to place the staff all the way over to the right, within a millimeter or 2 of the edge. For all intents and purposes, we want no right margin on our paste-ups.

The reason for this, as you will see, is that it makes copying the paste-up easier. The vast majority of photocopy machines scan from the left side. When you flip this paste-up over for copying, you will be in control of the margin along that edge because you don't have to guess where the music starts.

Make use of the horizontal lines of the grid on the cutting pad to help get the staff horizontal. Just use your eyeballs. The beauty of the Post-It Note-type adhesive is that you can shift the strip around all you want and, when you are satisfied with its position, press it to fix it nice and tight. One small patch of adhesive provides more than enough strength. Furthermore, if you need to reposition the staffs, you can pull strips up and stick them down again and again. No way with regular glue or tape . . .

Now, having cut out the 1st staff from the score and stuck it in place on the 1st page of the 1st part, you are really rolling. Go down the score from top to bottom cutting out the staffs (2 curvy cuts per staff) one by one, adding them in order to the appropriate part. Notice that it's not fair for one person to have to do all of the work making all of the parts for the ensemble, but it's ultimately much more efficient than each person doing his own. Also - in the spirit of "if you want something done right..." - there's almost guaranteed to be somebody in your ensemble who will do such a lousy job with his part that it will create rehearsal and performance problems.

If you have to space the staffs closely to get a certain number of them on a page, you will see why we made our cuts follow the contour of the music above and below the staffs. This allows you to fit the peak(s) of the staff you are positioning into concave area(s) on the bottom of the staff above.

Don't worry about overcrowding; you won't get notes from different staffs so intertwined that it causes reading problems. Crowded staffs is a very small price to pay for getting the part down to the minimum number of pages (either 1, 2 or 3.) Also, if you manage to not use up the full 11-inch height of the page, you can enlarge the music when you copy the paste-up. This always helps readability (even if we cringe at the thought of editions trumpeting "Big-Note Solos!")

Even if all the staffs are not exactly the same length in the original score, my recommendation is still to right-justify them on the paste-up sheets. A slightly "ragged left" is no big deal.

After you have gone through the whole score and created all the pasted-up parts pages, slice off the tops, leaving about a half-centimeter top margin. This, again, will aid in the final copying. I also slice off the excess paper at the bottom, giving myself convenient letter-size (A4) paste-up pages.

Now you need to make another trip to the photocopy store. Don't copy on company time and at company expense or I will be cross with you.

Examine the left margin and examine the bottom margin. One of these is the limiting factor in how much you can enlarge the copy. Although I have created charts which tell me what magnification to use to fully utilize the copy paper, I always just estimate it. You get good at it very quickly.

I typically find that the staffs are short enough to allow about a 105% magnification and still leave good margins on a letter-size page. Whether or not you can go up to the full 105%, say, depends on how close to the bottom of the page the music goes. If your staffs fill up the whole 11-inch length of the paper, you can't enlarge it at all, of course.

Notice that you might be changing the magnification page by page. Depending on the magnification, adjust the position of the paste-up on the copy machine glass so that you get nice, even margins on the left and right. The lack of right margin on our paste-ups lets us know right where the printing is, even though the paste-up is face down.

And, presuming your machine uses the upper left corner of the glass as its origin (which I think most do nowadays), you will find our ready-to-go top margin very handy. (Notice that if we had left-justified the staffs on the paste-up pages, we would have to position the bottom edge of the page along the top edge of the copy machine glass. This would give uniform bottom margins and varying top margins from one page to the next, which I dislike.)

Find an exposure that won't show the edges of the paper strips on the copy.

My final words on copying are, find a machine that makes perfect, razor-sharp copies. Accept nothing less. And get to know the machine. A bit of experimentation is worth a thousand words from me.

While you are copying, you will probably want to make at least 2 copies of each paste-up. One set will be distributed to your ensemble partners, the other is for archiving and should serve well as a master for further copying. Sending that set through a copier with an automatic feeder would be infinitely easier than copying the paste-ups again one by one.

Store the paste-ups away in a safe place. Hopefully you will never need to pull them out again, but you never know, and they represent far too much work to throw out.

Finally, clip this invoice, fill it out, and send it to the publisher.


Invoice No. ___________

Date:       ___________

Work done for publisher: ____________________________________



Description:  Reimbursement of material and labor costs incurred in 
creating individual parts from a score, or otherwise removing impossible 
page turn(s) from the following piece of music published by you:

  Title ______________________________________________________

  Composer ___________________________________________________

  Arranger/editor ____________________________________________

I have enclosed a sample page of the fixed music.

  Photocopy cost       (no.) ______ x $_____(each) = $________

  Photocopy labor      (no.) ______ / 60 x $5.25   = $________
  (@ 60 copies/hr)

  Cut and paste labor  (hrs) ______ x $5.25        = $________

                                             Total = $________

Terms: net 30 days.

Comments: Labor is figured at minimum wage.  Travel time and cost to the 
photocopy store has been absorbed by myself.  You're welcome.  

Please consider the poor musician.  Please stop publishing music with 
impossible page turns.  Don't risk a class action lawsuit.  

Name:    ______________________________       

Address: ______________________________      



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