Comment from Michael Grave on the item
‘How do you score?’

Sir (sorry John!)

An interesting and fun article on choral score marks on your web site home page, which I enjoyed but must criticise in certain respects.

At Ryton Choral Society we are told in no uncertain terms that we must remove all markings from scores before they are returned. This could be for three reasons:

1) It is a requirement of the hiring library

2) We don’t want other societies to know the secret of our successful performances

3) We are all terrified of our Chairman who is an ex Head Teacher

So beware, your review of markings may not be the whole picture. I once had a copy that the previous owner, a Soprano, had put a mark on virtually every note, bar and word. I thought it was going to take me several weeks to rub them all out. It was like a knitting pattern! The best bit was she (I assume, it could be he, I suppose) marked the start of every soprano line in the score with a large circled X. It was of course always the top line and not that difficult to find. Another person I know, who shall be nameless, likes to put a felt-tipped pen along all the notes of the relevant line to make absolutely sure they do not stray in to one of the other parts. I have also sung in a professional choir in which the breath marks were mostly pre-added by the choir librarian on behalf of the Director of Music. But equally, there have been copies with conflicting breath marks because the Director has a different view to the Assistant Organist. Of course if you choose the wrong direction during the service you are not at all popular so careful listening in rehearsal and watching the conductor like a hawk make up a survival kit.

But how long is the breath or note? Another conductor I know spends ages making sure that the length of the gap between notes/phrases is observed exactly by every one in the choir, so breath marks can involve all sorts of signs and symbols and the number of dots and lines to mark staccato, semi-staccato and legato become profuse. Another challenge on rubbing out is spotting the dots!

So I think you need to found a PhD study into copy marking as it plays such an important role in enjoying music and impacts on the lives, happiness and well-being of large numbers of people. I do believe there is a need for an ISO Standard as the number of methods of marking copies seems to be infinite, variable and in some cases, questionable. I have also never come across a musical theory book that explains the use of the sign “a pair of spectacles”, which I personally find most useful.


Michael Grave
Director of Music;
Whickham St Mary the Virgin

Percy Buck 'The Scope of Music'

"A musical sound has three characteristics: pitch, intensity, and quality. We have discussed pitch and intensity, and I now want to tell you how your ear distinguish between two sounds of different quality.

It may surprise you to know that, just as nearly everything we have ever tasted is a combination of certain elements which a chemist could analyse, so almost every sound you have ever heard, even when you thought it was a single note, is a combination of other sounds. If you would like to train your ears I beg you, when you get home, go to the piano and strike the C which is two leger lines below the bass stave. Strike it hard several times, holding it down the last time, and listen attentively until it is almost inaudible. Alter a very few trials—possibly the first time—you will notice there is another note sounding strongly, the G in the top space of the bass stave. After a few more trials you will plainly hear the E on the bottom line of the treble stave. You will then have discovered a fact known for ages to men of science, viz. that a note is almost invariably a combination of sounds. These various sounds which combine to form a note are called the ‘Partial Tones’ of that note, which is itself called the ‘Fundamental Partial’.

It is just possible to get a sound that has no partials - called a ‘Simple’ Sound - just as it is possible to get a simple primary colour; but you have probably seldom heard one. The nearest approach to it is the sound of a tuning-fork struck very gently, or the soft cooing of a dove. And the fact I want you to grasp is that ‘quality’ in a sound is due to the number and relative strength of the partial-tones which constitute it. They need not all be present-in fact, as the series extends upwards to the extreme limit of hearing we may safely say they are never all present. But if you get a flute, a trumpet, a violin, and a singer all to produce the same note at the same intensity, then the only difference between the four sounds is a difference of quality, which is entirely due to the fact that each of the four sounds, though their 'fundamental partial’ is the same, contains different ‘upper partials’.

buck ex6
I do not think, unless you are definitely a musical student, it is at all important for you to know more about the mysteries underlying ‘quality’. But I should like to point out one fact about the ‘harmonic chord' (as it is called) in EX. 6, lest you should think this matter of partial-tones to be mere theorizing. If you study the numbers at the side you will see that 1, 2, 4 and 8 are all an octave apart; and if you continued the series you would find that 16, 32, and 64. were all of them the note C. Similarly 3, 6, 12, 24. etc., are all G; 5, 10, 20, etc. always E. These facts have a practical result. For we can tell two things in consequence of them, viz. the vibration-numbers of the notes, and the length of pipe or string necessary to produce them. For instance, if we know that the bottom C of Ex. 6 has 60 vibrations per second and is produced by a pipe of 8 feet, then the vibration-number of the G which is the third partial is 60x3, and its pipe-length is 8/3 feet; similarly the vibration-number of the E which is the 5th partial is 60x5, and its pipe—length is 8/5 feet. If you pursue the subject of partial-tones a little farther—which you can do by studying any elementary text-book on sound—you will be initiated into some fascinating and bewildering mysteries in connexion with the ordinary major scale that you know so well. And you will learn some surprising things, such as why an expert piano-tuner is a man who is paid for putting your piano definitely out of tune. But perhaps you would rather pay in peace and leave such puzzles alone. I have just scratched the surface of the field of acoustics for you, in the hope of convincing you that it is interesting, and that by being interested in the material of which music is made, you will find your appreciation of the music itself a little more intelligent in quality, and certainly no less in quantity, than heretofore."

Percy Buck 'The Scope of Music' OUP