Why Silver Clef Music Sometimes Includes Three Kinds of Scores

An Essay by David P. Miller, founder and president of Silver Clef Music

Traditionally, conductor’s scores for concert bands have been plagued by having to choose between two alternatives, each of which has serious drawbacks: A condensed score, which leaves out too much, and a full score, which is terribly difficult to read.

 Conductor Styles

If we are going to consider what sorts of scores are best, we need to first consider how they will be used. This means we need to look at how conductors will use the scores in their work.

As you can imagine, there are as many different ways of using scores as there are people who use them.

On the one extreme, there are those dedicated souls who study every line in a score, every part, every articulation and dynamic mark, every nuance they can infer the composer intended. For these types of conductors, condensed scores are a curse. They need full scores, scores that have a single line for every part written in the work. These people know exactly what they are looking for in every measure of a work before their group ever plays the first note.

I was at a rehearsal once with the great Arnald Gabriel, retired commander of the USAF band in Washington, D.C. He was rehearsing a newly-commissioned work for the first time. We were about three quarters of the way through the piece when he stopped the band, made a comment to the percussion section, then turned to the clarinets without looking at the score and said, “Third clarinets, in measure 175, on the third beat, that Ab should have a much stronger accent…” (that’s as close as I can remember it.) I was amazed at his intimate knowledge of this brand new work.

On the other extreme, there are those happy-go-lucky types who read the score for the first time as the group sight-reads their parts, When they rehearse the tune with their group, they simply listen for what sounds off, and stop and correct that, referring to the score mostly for just tempo and meter changes, occasionally for dynamics. For these types of conductors, a condensed score is just fine.

I would venture to guess people reading this essay fall somewhere between those two extremes.

Old-Style Condensed Scores

For years, publishers furnished only condensed scores with their sets of music, usually 3-line scores. These scores were excellent to use while conducting, as they could put a great deal of music onto each page, so the conductor could spend more time conducting and less time turning pages. However, these scores were dismal for score study and for rehearsal, because they contained only the most minimal elements needed to follow the music.  Additionally, they were a pain for the authors or arrangers to produce. It frequently took as long to write a condensed score as it took to write the fully-scored work itself.

I had one of my mentors, someone who was active in music writing in the third quarter of the 20th century, tell me he once took a manuscript to a publisher, who told him they would boost his royalty rate to 15% if he would write the condensed score for the work. He turned them down, because he did not want to have to do that.

Full Scores – The Millennial Trend

 In recent decades, publishers have been furnishing full scores with their parts sets. As I mentioned above, full scores are excellent for those conductors who need to know every note in every part.

The two biggest drawbacks with full scores are tiny print and frequent page turns.

Many band scores have 25 or more separate parts, each of which has its own line. When you try to cram 25 or 30 staves onto a single page, you wind up having to make the print so small, it is practically indecipherable.

Printing on larger paper helps, but any paper larger than 9″ x 12″ becomes unwieldy, and 9″ x 12″ is still too small for true full scores.

The image at the right links to a PDF of the first page of CENTURIONS! (a work offered here on Silver Clef). From simply looking at that image, you can easily see it would be nearly impossible to make out any of the actual music on that page. Go ahead. Click on the image to see what I mean, then use your browser’s “Back” button to come back here.

If you open or download the PDF linked to the image, you will see you can zoom in on the image, allowing you to see every note in every part. This means a conductor who wants to do extensive score study can do so from a PDF of a full score, as easily or perhaps more easily than with a printed score.

However, while furnishing only a full score with a set of parts may solve the score-study problem, it creates big problems elsewhere.

For those works with complex meter changes, many tempo changes, or in a style that does not make it easy to memorize, a conductor usually needs to have a score to use during rehearsals and concerts. A full score with huge pages just gets in the way, a standard-paper-sized score with tiny print is almost impossible to make out, and having to turn pages every six to eight measures interferes with all else that’s going on.

Here’s what Don Cushman, 14+ year conductor of the Jackson Hole, Wyoming Community Band told me about these scores:

I like a full score early in rehearsals to help see who is supposed to be doing what and to aid in the determination of correct or misprinted notation. By the end of the rehearsals before a concert and during a concert, a condensed score is good enough, and it certainly diminishes the number of page turns. I have had a few fast sections in full scores during which my left hand never had a chance to help shape the sound of the music — it was constantly turning pages!


This is when condensed scores show their worth.


Newer Condensed Scores – Solving Some But Not All  Problems

When I was in college, my band director, Richard W. Bowles, showed me how to write semi-condensed scores for marching band, on six lines. The first line was the woodwinds, line two was the trumpets. Line three was the horns and alto saxes, line four was the trombones, five was the baritones and tubas, and line six was the percussion.

This worked so well that I use variations on this method even today. Most of the condensed scores we furnish with tunes here at Silver Clef Music are built on this model, or a variation of it.

Generally, you can easily fit two staff systems on one page, and it is also easy to fit four to eight measures per staff system. This cuts down greatly on the number of page turns required, while still providing the conductor with all the essential parts and the visual cues for tempo changes, meter changes, fermatas, caesuras, dynamic changes, and pretty much anything else a conductor might need during a rehearsal or performance.

However, because this is a condensed score, it is much more difficult to indicate specific instruments, for example, if a motif is passed from flutes to clarinets to saxophones to trumpets. While it is possible to annotate a condensed score to include all these nuances, this type of score would become overly cluttered in some of the more complex works.

Therefore, in some of our more complex and involved catalog items, like CENTURIONS!, we have decided to include a third kind of score, the compressed score.

The Compressed Score – Bridging The Gap

With full scores being so crammed as to be virtually unreadable and condensed scores sometimes not providing enough detail, we recognized there was a need for a type of score that provided all the details, yet was easy to see when printed on a standard 8 1/2″ x 11″ piece of paper.

Enter the Compressed Score.

A compressed score is, quite simply, a score in which all like instruments are entered on the same line, and all duplicated instruments are removed.

For example, all 3 Bb Clarinets are entered on one line; 1st and 2nd Alto Saxes are on one line; 3 trumpets on one line, 4 horns on one line, 3 trombones on one line. The treble clef baritone part is omitted, since it duplicates the bass clef part. The string bass part is omitted, and annotated on the tuba part when it does and does not double the tuba. The contrabass clarinet part is omitted, and the piccolo is annotated on the flute part.

In the following tutorial, you can follow along with me as I create a Compressed Score for the new Solar Eclipse march, starting from an existing full score.

See a TUTORIAL on How To Create A Compressed Score

The result for CENTURIONS! (the illustration above) is a thirteen-staff score that is easy to see, and includes all the parts in the full score.

This is the best compromise we have found so far, between the tiny print of a full score and the omitted elements of a condensed score.

How To Use Each Type of Score

 The bottom line here is that each type of score, the full score, the compressed score, and the condensed score, each has its uses and its place.

THE FULL SCORE is best for score study. It is best NOT when printed on paper, but when viewed using a PDF viewer, with the ability to zoom in to see all the nuances of each part in the score when you need to.

THE COMPRESSED SCORE is best for rehearsals. This score is intended to be printed, and will contain all the nuances of the full score, in a compressed format. Use this score during rehearsals when you might need to see exactly what each instrument is playing at a specific spot in the score.

THE CONDENSED SCORE is best for conducting, specifically in concerts, but also in rehearsals when you have most of the tune learned. The condensed score is for the conductor to follow so as to pick up cues on tempo changes, meter changes, fermatas, caesuras, etc.

Each type of score has its place. This is why we sometimes include all three types with our more complex listings.