Music Copying: Getting the Right Look!

Music Copying: Getting the Right Look!

by Lee Monroe

In this day and time, more arrangers and composers are producing their own music copy.  With the advent of computer music notation programs like Finale, Sibelius, Score, Encore, and such, as well as music fonts designed for these programs, orchestrators are forgoing the use of a professional music copyist.

In addition, there are many who consider themselves professional music copyists that do not have the experience of being a copyist except for using the computer.

It has been my experience that having the benefit of being a hand copyist or engraver prior to the introduction of computer music notation provides a distinct advantage in producing a quality look to one’s material.

In this article, I will give some simple examples of do’s and don’ts for your individual part layouts.

Entering the Music:

The preparation for getting your final product to look as professional as possible begins with how you enter information into a file. 

In my article on our method of part extraction (A Different Approach to Finale Part Extraction) I explain the importance of distinguishing between measure attached and note attached expressions.  Measure attached expressions should be used only for information that applies to all of the parts and not for information unique to an individual part (i.e. tempo info, style info, rehearsal letters, etc…).  Note attached expressions should be used for all information particular to a part (dynamics, doubling info, etc…).  As a production company that often reuses material for different venues this distinction is very important because of how Finale handles the copying command <ctrl+c>; with this command only information contained within the bar and not information attached to the bar is copied.  This is explained more fully in my article “Music Copying & Finale Part 3: A Pasting Paradise”.

You must also take care in how you enter information to make sure that expressions and smart shapes are attached to the appropriate stave or you will get a nasty surprise when you extract the parts.  You must also give some care to how you place information if you will be required to produce a score for an arrangement.

Often I receive files for extraction from arrangers who work in Finale.  This is usually not my preference because often I have to deal with different versions of Finale.  This is generally not good because new versions of Finale come out every year (which are often filled with bugs or in some cases are not an improvement over older versions) and my company doesn’t immediately move to the newer versions (we are currently on 2000) because of many of these problems.  Arrangers often move to the new versions because of a perception that newer is always better and therefore I am forced to work in these versions.  To be fair, there are many arrangers that I work with on a regular basis that will come in to my office to train with me or send in several versions of an arrangement (with feedback from me) until they get things the way they should be.  I appreciate these individuals and they remind me of writers like Rich Shemaria who, even though he is a great writer, would often confer with copyists to improve the look of his scores.  After all, the point is to get the correct information to the musician. 

Given the time I will layout my own score with my settings and paste in the arrangers original file, it saves time and helps eliminate many of the little landmines I always find deep in another person’s Finale file.


Another important step, extraction done right is the next major step in getting the right look.  This is one of the principle reasons I prefer our extraction process because I can set the tone for the look of the layout of every part beginning with the first extraction.  First off, look below if you want to see my personal settings for page extractions – this gives me a good start in my layout process.

Once extracted, begin to layout this part.  Take some time here and you will save a great deal of time in the rest of the extraction process, if you use our process, that is, otherwise you will have to spend an inordinate amount of time with each extraction.  If you use the normal Finale extraction process it might prove effective to make a copy of the file for extraction, highlight the first line/part in scroll view with the staff tool and set up your page title information so that when you do the mass extractions the title information is more or less set without affecting your score layout.

First page title information includes title, instrument, arranger/orchestrator/ composer information, show or venue information, and log numbers if the piece is part of a larger library.  Second page information should include instrument, page number, and title (or title abbreviation).

Getting the Look:

Now the fun part, the first piece of advice I offer is to do your best to refrain from moving pieces of your music information individually.  Get use to adjusting things and planning globally rather than moving an individual note or measure number here or there, because once moved these bits will generally not cooperate when you want to make global changes and resetting some of these things to the default isn’t always that simple.

To start with I’ll extract a part using the traditional method.  As you can see below there are a few different parameters you can use in the extraction process:

1)   Extraction Using Fit Music

In the 1st Example we check the fit music option and require it to fit 4 bars a line.  In the spacing options I usually ask it to space considering all of the options except Unisons and staff expressions, which throw off spacing like crazy.  

In the Examples below you will find:

a) Bad page turns on the odd pages (do everything possible to provide page turns on odd pages for recording sessions and stage shows)

b) Lack of phrasing.  This is important for sight-reading, establishing patterns by baring phrases together.

c) Positioning of Measure attached (global) expressions (clashes and positioning)

d) Spacing is alright but locking it into 4 bars a line limits the computer from making some better decisions

d) Too many pages

Fit Music Extractions

Page 1 & 2 Page 3 & 4 Page 5

Do not check Fit 4 beats and choose note spacing option. 

In the example below, you will notice a few things:

a) No page turn at the bottom of page 1 and no free look at the bottom of page two (not a requirement but a nice thing to have if possible).

b) Lack of phrasing.

c) Positioning of Measure attached (global) expressions (clashes and positioning)

d) Ties or Slurs at the end of a stave (bars 22,30,132,160)

e) The part is basically spaced okay but is laid out illogically.

Without Fit Music Extractions

Page 1  Page 2 & 3        

I prefer the latter because it gives me a better starting point for my layout.

Following is a sample of one of our finished extractions.  Remember that there is a difference between Published material and live or recorded music.  Usually there are extreme time constraints on the live and recorded music.  The primary mission of the copyist in these situations is to do what is best for the playing musician.  Accuracy, layout, page turns, and phrasing are all components involved in making the task of the musician easier so that he/she can produce the best final product.  

EMS Finished Example

Page 1

Page 2 & 3

There are several decisions that, for the time being, only a human can make.  The look is very important and is not necessarily something that we can easily quantify.  Whenever possible we grouped phrases.  I was able to avoid Slur and tie interruptions.  I have an excellent page turn at the bottom of page 1 and a good free look at the bottom of page 2.  The layout is balanced and clean without the crunching (squeezing) of notes.

With our extraction process, I will be able to paste the balance of the single line parts (at least through the low brass) with only minor changes in the layout as I proceed through each family.

If you click on to these images you can print them out and do some comparisons.  This should help you to start developing an eye for what is important for the musician.

The next article will deal with the layout of Vocal parts, a different animal all together.    

Take care! Lee Monroe

Lee Monroe is the owner of Express Music Services.  He has been a fulltime copyist for 20 years and was strictly a hand copyist for the first 15.  You can check out his hand music font by following this link - LeeMusic.

© Express Music Services, Inc. 

Not to be reproduced without written permission from Express Music Services.


LeeMusic, AshMusic, RussMusic and Lizard Guide are trademarks of Express Music Services, Inc. All other products mentioned are registered trademarks or trademarks of their respective companies.

Send mail email inquiries to "leemonroe" or "info" then add "" with questions or comments about this web site. (Been getting spammed too much because of trolling of my email addresses, hope all understand) Copyright © 1999 Express Music Services, Inc.