7 Tips for Making Your Sheet Music More Readable

Everyone has had an experience of playing a poorly written piece of music. Sometimes a bad performance can be put down to rubbish notation. To eliminate confusion with any pieces you write, we’ve discovered seven tips to making your sheet music more readable.

Always Use the Invisible Bar Line

If you’re a keen music writer then you may have already heard of the concept called the Invisible Bar Line. This line usually happens halfway through a measure. It’s typically used by writers to show every beat in the music’s measure. Adding in this line can make a piece of music much easier for the musician to read. Remember that you can tie the notes that sit on either side of the line together as well.

Use Phrasing and Articulation

The term phrasing is the number of measures which is present in each line of music. In most pieces you will be able to get away with using four, sometimes more if there isn’t a lot of intricate rhythms. Most musicians will be much more comfortable viewing and reading music if there are three to four measures per line.

It’s always a clear sign of an amateur composer when there is a lack of information. An ensemble will need a lot of specific instructions for the musician so that they can play your piece consistently. Playing a piece without any sort of guidance can lead to disaster. Adding in different things like staccato dots, accents and other musical markings makes your composition a lot easier for the musician to interpret.

Use Your Dynamics

Similar to using your musical articulation, having little to no dynamics in a piece can really confuse anyone attempting to play it. Conductors and performers will always interpret your dynamics and music in their own way. However, it’s still vitally important to give them some sort of direction. Otherwise the music will sound lacklustre and bland.

If you choose not to use any sort of dynamics, then a performer won’t understand how to express the right feelings in your music. Even a simple piece of music still needs instructions for things like volume. Typically, in music writing you will want to write any sort of dynamics underneath the staff. The only exception to this rule is when writing for vocals, when you want to avoid any clash with lyrics.

Keep Spaces Even

One of the most difficult part of writing music is the spacing. You have to find the perfect balance between keeping the notes far apart so that they’re legible, but close enough so you don’t run out of space. Also take into account that articulations, markings and accidentals will also need to take up space. You’ll find that real estate is hard to come by once you start writing sheet music.

A great starting point is to make sure you divide the staffs into four measures for each line. This should be familiar to you because we discussed it in point two. This gives you the perfect starting block where you can write notes and any dynamics on the lines so that they’re legible. Use more space after longer notes and then shorten the spaces for short notes. Spacing should be kept as proportional as possible throughout your music.

Use a Straightedge for Handwriting

Handwriting sheet music is quite uncommon but not everyone has fancy software on their computer for their compositions. You want to make everything you write as neat as possible. You should be spending time practicing your writing so that your lettering is precise. Any text that is written haphazardly will usually be ignored by a musician. Everything has to be legible, even if you are writing by hand so make sure your articulations, slurs and note heads are practiced.

One of the most tell-tale signs that a piece of music has been written badly can be seen in the stem directions. This is where using a straightedge will save the day. The stem of a note must be completely and perfectly vertical. There can’t be any sort of wavering in this straightness.

Keep It as Simple as Possible

It’s sometimes hard to not overcomplicate you pieces but remember that the most obvious route is usually the right way to go. Sheet music doesn’t have to be overcomplicated. It should look easy to play, even if it isn’t. If a musician looks at your music and becomes confused, then it can lead to poor performances. Take a look at your piece and remove any unnecessary markings that could be written differently to make the music flow.

Writing music is all about using your common sense. A lot of sheet music out there could have been made so much simpler if the composer had just used their head. This skill becomes even more imperative as you move into the final copies of your music.

Always Edit

Until a piece of music has been played or published then it’s still considered to be a work in progress. Never be afraid to go back in and rework different sections so that they flow. Pencil markings are a big no-no in your final copy. This is because you are writing an original composition, so you want to give a musician the cleanest copy possible, even if it means you must print out twenty different copies for one small chord change.

If you don’t know how to write something as part of your composition, don’t ever guess. There are so many resources out there online and in various music books that will cover all of the rules for writing music, no matter what the style. If you’re not writing by hand by using the computer instead then you can read the software manual and learn the programming properly. Never be afraid to reach out to other people. There are so many people out there who are willing and happy to help new writers compose their pieces properly.

Writing a brand new composition can be daunting and will take a lot of effort and time on your part. Make the most of all the advice and tips you can lay your hands on so you can write the best piece possible for the musician. Do you have any other tips on how to create a great score? Let us know if there’s any problems you always experience with your notation and make sure to share our advice with others.

To easily scan and digitize your printed sheet music to work with it further in editors like Finale, Sibelius, Notion, MuseScore, etc., you may want to consider Sheet Music Scanner. Take a photo of printed sheet music, upload, and get to work. You can import from PDF, export to audio, MusicMXL, and MIDI, listen to the music, and switch instruments for different sounds.