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A Day in the Life... S01 E11

My Love/Hate Relationship with Engraving Music

According to, "Music engraving is the art of drawing music notation at high quality for the purpose of mechanical reproduction. The term music copying is almost equivalent—though music engraving implies a higher degree of skill and quality, usually for publication. The name of the process originates in plate engraving, a widely used technique dating from the late sixteenth century.[1] The term engraving is now used to refer to any high-quality method of drawing music notation, particularly on a computer ("computer engraving" or "computer setting") or by hand ("hand engraving")."

Regardless of the medium, my workflow for composing typically looks like this:

  1. Pre-Writing/Research

  2. Sketching

  3. Writing

  4. Orchestrating (assign actual instruments/timbres to specific notes/motifs)

  5. Engraving

  6. Score & Part Editing

  7. Prepare for publication (self-publish and/or submit to publishers)

In my opinion, engraving is one of the most important steps in this workflow. It can also be the most time-consuming. The "cleaner" the parts look, the more accurately the musicians will be able to play what you intended on the first read. A great amount of time can be lost in rehearsals simply from giving clarification or addressing errors that could have been solved in the engraving and editing steps.

So what sort of things are accounted for during the engraving step?

  • Music spacing (notes, rhythms, measures, systems)

  • Alignment of dynamics and other text

  • Ensuring page turns are appropriate

  • Clearly labeling percussion (especially when the instrument changes)

This is done for the score and all of the parts. For perspective, Symphony No. 2 in C minor had 25 different parts and is over 1200 measures long. Each one is individually looked at and adjusting accordingly. After all of the engraving is done, I typically export each part as a .pdf and review them one at a time for visual clarity. If something was missed, (and it happens more than I'd like to admit, unfortunately) we go back into the engraving process and fix it until it's right.

I'm currently fine tuning the parts for Symphony No. 2 in C minor and the process has been very lengthy. I am still hopeful to have it uploaded for purchase by the end of the weekend, but there may be some very late nights in my future.


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