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Music Notation (Crescendo Book) Paperback – January 1, 1999
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From the Back Cover
Music Notation is authoritative in every respect: written by a teacher and composer of international reputation; devoted to every phase of modern practice in the subject; concisely presented against a minimum historical background; all terms are defined upon first use. The text describes and illustrates not only the elements of notation common to all forms, but idiomatic notation for instruments and voices as well. It offers detailed guidance concerning music manuscript writing and the preparation of score and parts.
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Read did _not_ set out to create a comprehensive, definitive work on /all/ music notation, ever, in all genres and idioms throughout history, and he says so. Such a work would run to volumes, require years and a team of writers to produce, and cost thousands of dollars to purchase. What he -did- set out to do was to provide a "Manual of Modern Practice", at the time of his writing (1964, updated 1971), and that he has done admirably. (Indeed, very little about common practice published music notation has changed since that time, in the genres which Read primarily addresses.)
If you're looking for the latest cutting-edge works on contemporary avant-garde, jazz, or electric guitar notation, then look elsewhere: there are many fine books on those topics. If, however, you are interested in the history and proper practice of conventional, mainstream, "classical" music notation, then Gardner Reed's Music Notation is -the- book for you.
When I began composing and copying parts, there were no desktop computers, and the few experimental attempts made at computer music notation were crude, and far more work to set up than to use pen and ink manually. We weren't -quite- reduced to drawing lines on blank sheets to create our own manuscript paper (like Bach), although some of us did that anyway, to get spacings that were unavailable in commercial manuscript. I purchased this book early in my career for exactly the purpose which its author intended: as a manual, to be used as an ongoing reference source. I still have it, and I still consult it from time to time.
Mr. Read took the time and thought to do something which far too many musicians are not very good at: he /analyzed/ then contemporary music notation practices; /codified/ those practices which he found in common use; and /organized/ them into logical groupings for detailed treatment. Thus we have:
Chapter 1 : Staves
Chapter 2 : Braces and Systems
Chapter 3 : Ledger Lines and Octave Signs
Chapter 4 : Clefs
Chapter 5 : Note-heads and Stems
Chapter 6 : Flags and Beams
Chapter 7 : Rests and Pauses
Chapter 8 : Ties and Dots
Chapter 9 : Accidentals and Key Signatures
Chapter 10 : Meter and Time Signatures
Chapter 11 : Barlines and Rhythm
Chapter 12 : Repitition Signs
Chapter 13 : Ornaments
Chapter 14 : Dynamic Markings
Chapter 15 : Accents and Slurs
Chapter 16 : Tempo and Expression Marks
The next section of the book deals with "idiomatic notation" for various musical instruments and contexts:
Chapter 17 : Vocal Notation
Chapter 18 : Keyboard Notation
Chapter 19 : Harp Notation
Chapter 20 : Woodwinds Notation
Chapter 21 : Brass Notation
Chapter 22 : Percussion Notation
Chapter 23 : String Notation
Chapter 24 : Jazz Notation
There are also sections on the history of music notation, and the preparation of score and parts. The meticulous and logical organization makes this a book which can either be read in a regular cover-to-cover manner, or used as a quick reference. For example, if you need to know how to best beam an odd grouping of notes in a particular passage to avoid performer confusion, open to Chapter 6, and what you need is likely there.
I learned a tremendous amount of musical information from this book over the years. Among other things, I learned -why- a published sheet of music is so often much easier to read than a composer's hand-written manuscript; it's /not/ just because printing is neater and clearer than handwriting.
It's because publishers have long adopted certain notational conventions that most of us who read music have been looking at for so long that we've internalized them. We -expect- certain things to look a certain way, and when they don't we find the musical page more difficult to read, and may not even know exactly why. The inept and unconventional in notation require more time to interpret, interrupting the musical experience. Working through this book you /will/ learn /why/ that is, and how to fix it. I remember that in music school I often had a far easier time attracting performers to play my compositions than some of my contemporaries, simply because the performers knew they wouldn't have to work as hard to read my parts; I attribute much of that to regular consultation of Gardner Read's work.
Is any of this still important in these days when producing professional-looking manuscript is as simple as "typing" it into a computer program like Sibelius or Finale from a piano-style keyboard?
Yes, it is, just as it is still important to understand basic arithmetic, even though electronic calculators are ubiquitous.
At one time I taught math, and found that when many business math students got the wrong answer to a problem using a calculator, they were often unable to track down their mistake to correct it. When I made them check their work /by hand/, suddenly they discovered the many little human errors which frequently occur when humans provide input to electronic devices: transposed digits; mislocated decimal points; accidental repetion of a digit; etc. This phenomenon is well-know to computer programmers as the GIGO effect -- "garbage in; garbage out".
And this definitely applies to computer musical notation. In order to recognize errors in computer music score output, you need to know what the score -should- look like. And that involves understanding the conventions of music notation. This book will enable you to do so.
Yes, there are deficiencies in this work. The "Jazz Notation" section is cursory and dated. But Read didn't set out to write a work on jazz notation, so I consider this section a bit of "extra bonus" material, rather than an underdeveloped part of the main work. Certainly you could have a career producing jazz stage-band parts for high schools and colleges based on the notational information in this chapter.
As a guitarist, I was also personally disappointed that there was virtually no mention of guitar notation in the book; however, that is a very specialized area, and whole books have been written specifically on that topic. By the same token, there is little said about any plucked-string instrument other than the harp. Read concentrates on the standard orchestra and band instruments, plus keyboard. In a field as vast as music notation, these are necessary limits to keep a reference work both affordable and of managable size. And learning -standard- notation for these common instruments provides a necessary foundation on which to build a more specialized knowledge for specific instruments. After all, the first 16 chapters apply to pretty much -any- instrument one might want to write music for in western musical notation, be it cello or banjo.
To sum up: this is an _essential_ book for any musician who ever places music down on paper, whether by computer printer, or with a quill pen. If you are involved in composing, aranging, or copying parts, you may also want to have additional notation books on your reference shelf, but you could do far worse than to make this book the first one.
Some areas are almost entirely overlooked, like tabulatures (either historical or modern) or basso continuo; they are specialistic areas, true, but so are many points included in the book.
In cases where I can claim some competence, I found many errors; for instance, Italian (my own language) equivalents for musical terms are often wrong (either misspelled or non-existent words); adding to the complaints already given about jazz or string coverage, I wonder if this book is not significantly over-rated.
The symbol index at the end is a nice idea, but it is too little to recommend it.
I can't say enough good things about this book and it is my favorite music notation book so far. I have several others.