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Understanding musical scores
Understanding musical scores

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1.1 Types of musical score

What does the term ‘musical score’ mean to you? Take a look at these images of scores. Do any aspects of them look familiar to you? Do you have any idea what the music depicted in these examples would sound like?

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Figure 1 St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek

Music from the middle ages (Figure 1) looks very different from the music of today, as it was only intended as a reminder of a melodic shape that went with words that were fully written out.

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Figure 2

Graphic notations, like the one shown in Figure 2, have been used to represent some music of very recent times. The example in Figure 2 looks like a comic strip, but represents a piece of vocal music.

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Figure 3

If you play the guitar or deal with popular musical genres you may have come across guitar tab (tablature), chord symbols or lead sheets as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 4 First page / leaf of vol. 3 of Shenqi Mipu

Non-Western cultures such as China and Japan have centuries-old traditions of using tablatures for writing down music that is different from those of Western music. The example in Figure 4 is a score for the qin or Chinese lute.

Figure 5 P. Jurgenson, n.d. (1892), Plate 17668

In Western culture we may be used to seeing scores like the final example in Figure 5, but scores are not always like this.