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A Handy Glossary of Common but Frequently Misunderstood Sheet Music Terminology

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Yesterday Service / Glossary of Terms

Catalog Number
A publisher's catalog number; useful, if you know it, when ordering music. Not to be confused with Opus number, which is more of a scholarly reference (Opus numbers are also useful when ordering, though).
Choral Score
For large choral works, some operas, very rarely for Broadway shows. Has all the choral parts but no solos, no accompaniment.
Choral Part
A sheet or booklet showing the music for one single voice of a chorus. It has no other parts, no accompaniment, and no cues. If at all possible, avoid buying this! (Unless you spent your formative years in choir school). Fortunately, choral parts are no longer common.
Chord Chart
1. Fingering chart for chord-playing instruments, such as guitar; 2. A song-sheet (see Lead Sheet ) showing the chords to a popular song; may show melody line, rarely bass line. Not usually found in classical music.
See our page,"Copyright and You" for a discussion of issues affecting sheet-music users.
The person whose name is all over the music, but who didn't write it. Basically, you, the musician, are concerned with two types of editor: the famous performer (performer's edition) and the scholar (urtext). Both do good and valuable work, but their functions are just about opposite: the scholar wants you to see exactly and only what the composer had in mind, the famous performer shows you how he or she makes this piece really sing.
Believe it or not, nine times out of ten, this obscure term actually means "Publisher's Name". The other one time, it refers to something you'll never see, like "Niemander von Nichtigdorff edition of 1697".
Fake Book
A jazz/pop term for a collection of Lead Sheets . "Classical" fake-books appear from time to time; these are collections of well-known classical themes expressed as melody line and chord chart, for use by general-business (read "jazz/pop") musicians at weddings and other functions. Actually not a bad thing- quite useful, in fact - but not really the same thing as classical sheet music.
Full Score
Full-sized conductor's score, usable for performance. Shows all parts. (Foreign terms: Partitur, Partitura, Partition).
Wind-Set. See also Set. European orchestral publications usually package strings separately from wind-set.
Klavierauszug: see Piano Reduction, Vocal Score.
Lead Sheet
A jazz/pop term for a single song-sheet with lyrics, piano accompaniment, and chord symbols. Sort of a modern figured-bass part. The term comes from the melodic part shown, or the "lead".
Opus (BWV, KV, Deutsch, HWV, etc.)
Numerical cataloging systems for organizing a composer's output, usually in terms of chronological creation. These numbers are very helpful in determining exactly which work is called for. For example, Beethoven wrote sixteen (or seventeen, if you count the Grosse Fuge) string quartets. Haydn (opus numbers and Hoboken numbers) wrote over 100 symphonies, all of which are named "Symphony".
Tip : Mozart is cataloged with Koechel numbers, J. S. Bach with BWV numbers, Schubert with Deutsch numbers; Vivaldi is cataloged with no fewer than six systems! The point is, supplying the appropriate identifier goes a long way toward getting you the right music. See also WoO .
A sheet or booklet for a shorter choral work. Contains all vocal parts, usually piano accompaniment (even if the accompaniment is for rehearsal purposes only). The term Octavo (8vo) refers to a standard paper sheet-size folded in eight, to produce a small book. But you already knew that.
Partition, Partitur(a): Score.
The individual parts for the players in an ensemble, as opposed to score, which a conductor uses to direct. See also Set, Choral Score, Performance Score, and Scoring. Normally, small chamber works are only available as parts, with no score.
Performance or Practical Edition
Generally, music you can afford to buy and use; this term is used in contrast to Scholarly or Library Edition, which are usually hard-bound, full of critical commentary and scholarly exegeses, and very, very expensive.
Performance Score
A score, containing all the parts, from which you are meant to play. Most common in 20th century chamber music. If a piece is sold as a performance score, there are no separate parts available, and you will need as many scores as you have players.
Performer's Edition
Edited by a famous performer, to share her/his interpretations. Hint : you can be famous, too...
Piano Reduction
Any combination of featured voices or instruments with the original orchestral accompaniment squashed into one itty, bitty piano. (Foreign: Klavierauszug, Riduzzione, Reduction pour piano et voix).
Plate Number (caution!)
A number which looks deceptively like a catalog number , usually found at the bottom of the first page of music of any publication, or at the beginning of each signature. The plate number is for the printer's internal use, and cannot in any way help us locate music. If you're looking for a catalog number, you'll find it on the cover of the music, on the fly-leaf, on the title page, or in the publisher's catalog.
Also called "Instrumentation" or "Voicing". A list of the instruments and/or voices required to perform a piece. Standard "catalog notation" would be:
Orchestra : Woodwinds - Flutes, Oboes, Clarinets, Bassoons, (Saxes);Brass - Horns, Trumpets, Trombones, Tuba(s); (Harp, other unusual items); Soloists or Chorus; Strings: Violin I, Violin II, Viola, Cello, Bass.

Example: 2-2-2-2, 4-3-2-1, hp, timp, strings.

Chorus : Soli - Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone ; chorus - soprano, alto, tenor, baritone

Example: SATB/satb, pf or organ.

Sometimes scoring is also a way of determining which player or section of the orchestra finished first.

This is a standardized package of instrumental parts. Orchestral sets vary from Wind-Set (one of each wind ,brass, percussion) to Complete Set (same, but includes a standard minimum number of strings). There are also some standard sets such as Set B (wind-set plus strings 5-5-3-3-3) and Set C (wind-set plus strings 8-8-5-5-5). Usually, string parts beyond the minimum are sold separately, in quantities specified by the customer.
Sheet Music
Generally, printed music. In popular music, refers to piano-vocal sheets of individual songs. We use "sheet music" to mean everything from a conductor's full score to a choral part (see below).
Parts. Stimmensatz = set of parts. Used for both vocal and instrumental music. Bestimmt.
Study Score
Medium to small-sized conductor's score. Shows all parts, but usually too small to use for rehearsal or performance. (Sometimes, too small to see). Also,Mini-Score.(Foreign: Studienpartitur, Taschenpartitur, Partition de poche).
"Original" text, or as close to the composer's original as possible. Should have only the performance markings and notational errors written by the composer.
Vocal Score
For large choral works, operas, Broadway shows, etc. Has all the solo vocal parts, all the chorus parts, piano or organ accompaniment. Also known as "Piano-Vocal Score", "Piano Score (?!)" and "Piano Reduction".
Vocal Selections
(Broadway shows only -- can you imagine vocal selections from Bach's St. Matthew Passion? I ask you.) A booklet of the top 8 to 12 songs from a hit show, in vocal score format.Warning : may not contain the song you want.
Werke ohne Opus  --works without opus numbers (which are then often numbered anyway). A crafty dodge on the part of biographers and bibliographers. See Opus .

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Last Modified Sunday, Jul 23, 2009