How to Score Music

By Simon Foden ; Updated September 15, 2017
You can score as you compose, or finish composing entirely before scoring.

Score is a term commonly used to refer to sheet music or the act of creating sheet music. Scoring music is the process of transcribing the music you have written or performed onto a staff manuscript so other musicians can read and play it. This is distinct from and should not be confused with scoring a film, which involves writing music for a film. Before audio technology existed, scoring music was the only way to record it for history. Now, it is typically used for educational and rehearsal purposes. Accuracy and clarity are extremely important.

The key signature indicates this piece is in the key of E flat.

Indicate the key signature. The key signature tells the musician which key the music is played in. It is used to avoid confusion when dealing with flat and sharp notes. Rather than drawing the sharp or flat symbol each time, you draw it once at the beginning. The musical key is denoted on the staff, after the clef. For example, if you are scoring something in the key of D major, put a sharp symbol on the second to top line of the staff.

The key signature is written at the beginning of the line.

Indicate the time signature. This lets the musicians know how many beats are in the measure and what kind of beats they are. It helps them count the music. For example, 4/4 means that each measure has four notes and that those notes are quarter notes. 2/4 tells the player that each measure has two notes and those notes are quarter notes. Write the time signature to the right of the clef.

Players use the clef to identify the staff relevant to their instrument.

Transcribe the top line melody. Break the music down into sections. The top line melody is the dominant melodic structure. The top line is often carried by the vocal. Draw in a treble clef to indicate the register of the section. The position of the note on the staff dictates the pitch and the type of note symbol used dictates the length of the note and its relationship to preceding and subsequent notes.

Transcribe the bass accompaniment. Use a new staff and indicate the register by drawing a bass clef. Plot the notes on the staff clearly. Position the notes accurately so their relationship to the corresponding notes in the melody is easy to identify. If a note in the bass accompaniment is played at the same time as a note in the melody, it goes directly underneath it. Use a ruler to make sure.

Abbreviations, symbols and words below the staff indicate dynamics.

Illustrate the score. Once the notes are complete, add the functional dynamic indicators. As well as indicating the pitch and length of the note, the player needs to know whether the note is loud, soft, smooth or staggered. Flourishes, crescendos, accents, and fades are indicated with words written underneath the staff. These are typically written fully in Italian, abbreviated in Italian or represented by a graphic. For example, to illustrate that the notes must grow steadily quieter, write either “diminuendo”, “dim” or use the symbol “>”. These illustrations help the player interpret the dynamics.

Tip

Space out your melody score so you have room to add symbols for rests and repeats.

Warning

Use a sharp pencil when drafting a score. This will save paper if you make mistakes.

About the Author

Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.