Alex Foster’s patented music annotation system

Shortly, I’m off on my annual choir week, in which I join a diverse bunch of talented singers, and pop off to one of England’s cathedrals for a semi-monastic séjour singing services.

This year, St Pauls, London. Eep!

Most of the singers in the choir are better than me, or at very least, more familiar with the music, since they sing with church choirs year round, and I haven’t found the time to join a choir in Nottingham.

Since we sing something different each night, that quite often puts me in the position of having to robe up and go out and sing music I’ve rehearsed barely twice before. I’m not the sort of shrinking violet who mouths all through the services without actually making a noise (although I’m not above doing that in the really difficult bits)

The choir has a library of its own music and a system which means broadly you get the same copy back each year, so I’ve developed a personal system of annotating musical scores to give myself a fighting chance of getting it right a) in the services and b) next year. One particularly good year, my notes were so on the ball, I managed to point out to a music teaching colleague where he was going wrong every time I got it right, and he didn’t, thanks to my notes. Tee hee.

The system is simple. Normally when scribbling notes on your music, all you do is ring a note that causes you trouble. My system is one of lines rather than rings, that give you more information about WHY a note causes you trouble.

If it’s pitch, the line next to the note is vertical.

If it’s duration, then the line below the note is horizontal.

This helps you tell yourself what it is about a note that has tripped you up in the past. Was it a difficult note to pitch? Was there an unexpected interval between two notes that led you to be sharp or flat? Or was the note longer or shorter than you anticipated?

For particularly difficult notes, use two lines either side of the note, or above and below. Sometimes, I also incorporate arrow heads too to give an indication of whether the unexpected pitch of a note is unexpectedly high or unexpectedly low.

And for those beastly notes which are both higher than expected and go on longer than expected, I draw a square around them.

The other key mark I make on music is for sudden bits of unison. As a bass singer, I don’t expect to be singing the same as other parts, and quite often, when all the parts are supposed to be singing the same, I have a habit of trying to harmonise. These are often the parts where we’re all singing loudly and when mistakes are particularly noticeable. So, to warn myself we’re all SUPPOSED to be singing the same note, I draw a vertical line that connects all the staves.

Simple really, but this system of lines around notes has saved my bacon and it can save your’s too.


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