Writing Scores for Sight Reading

David A. Wheeler


I occasionally play on the piano/synth, guitar, or my baritone horn. Sometimes want to play some existing music by using some sheet music... and then I'm shocked at how many scorers don't think about their reader.

If you're scoring a piece of music, please consider your reader, particularly your sight reader. You may have a fancy music degree, but please don't inflict unnecessary weirdness on your reader. Instead, try to write your score so that it's easy (as possible) to play just by reading it.

Here are some examples:

  1. Don't use more than two staves for a single keyboard. Most of have, at most, two hands.
  2. In keyboard scores, use the lower staff for the left hand and the upper staff for the right hand. I can figure out alternatives, but why do I need to?
  3. Avoid unusual notation like double sharps, double flats, and C flat. I can figure them out, but they're so rare that they interfere with reading the score. In most cases you can use something more common, like a natural note, that is much easier on your readers.
  4. Liberally use repeats. If you use repeats, I immediately know that it's exactly the same thing. Without repeats, I have to figure it out each time. Why are you making me figure that out?
  5. Limit page counts. If you can do it in fewer pages, then I don't have to flip between the pages or find a way to prop them up so I see them all.
  6. Vertically line up notes if they are played simultaneously, and use measure bars so it's easier to see "where you are" in the future. Number the measures (say, at the beginning of each line) so they're easier to discuss.
  7. In general, use the most common conventional ways of notating the music so that it's easy to read.

For an example you can see my scoring of the cool 1890 work Gnossiene No 1 (by Erik Satie) that I created with the very cool MuseScore (an open source software program for creating musical scores). By all means be creative, but try to express your musical ideas in the clearest way possible. Your performers will thank you.

Feel free to see my home page at https://dwheeler.com. You may also want to look at my paper Why OSS/FS? Look at the Numbers! and my book on how to develop secure programs.

(C) Copyright 2020 David A. Wheeler. Released under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike version 3.0 or later (CC-BY-SA-3.0+).