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Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation Hardcover – Jan 1 2003

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 676 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred Publishing Co (Jan. 1 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571514561
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571514564
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 15.9 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #165,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"I pray that [this book] becomes a kind of Holy Writ for notation in this coming century. Certainly nobody could have done it better, and it will be a reference for musicians for decades to come." Not my words, but those of Simon Rattle (one of only two conductors to escape censure from Peter Maxwell Davies earlier this week; only Rattle and Pierre Boulez emerged unscathed as "masters of their art" in his recent pop at the profession) on Elaine Gould's new book, Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation. This "wonderful monster volume" - Rattle again - is indeed more than the sum of its parts. Gould's book is the result of decades of experience as senior new music editor at Faber Music, where she has worked closely with composers like Jonathan Harvey, Oliver Knussen, Colin Matthews, and Thomas Ades, and what she has to say in Behind Bars transcends the book's first appearance as a manual of notational best practice. Under the surface of its guide to producing the best and clearest scores - the arcana of making sure you're not asking your harpist for too many pedal changes, that you change clefs in the right place in your orchestral parts, and how best to indicate the plethora of extended instrumental techniques in so much contemporary music - this book expounds an alchemical formula for musical communication. Gould's book shows composers how to ensure that the magical transfer of musical ideas from their imaginations to their scores, from their performers to their audiences, is as seamless as possible. Behind Bars is a practical revelation of the poetics of musical communication. It's especially necessary in the early 21st century. You might think that after centuries of evermore sophisticated copying, printing, and digitising of music notation that all the problems had been solved. Not a bit of it. The rash of computer scores produced with programmes like Sibelius in the last couple of decades are a mixed blessing. Software like Sibelius allows composers to create full scores and individual parts for the musicians at the click of a button, yet it's too easy to overlook the kind of problems that Gould talks about - where a badly placed page-turn in your string parts can mean the difference between a good performance and a catastrophic one. Gould quotes Mahler's frustration with the copyist who mauled the material of his Eighth Symphony before its first performance in Munich in 1910; looking at his exemplary manuscript of the Fifth Symphony that the Morgan Library has just made available for free online, you can see that Mahler abided by Gould's principles of clarity and consistency. But I wonder what Gould would say to Beethoven, if she were faced with pages like this, from the manuscript of the Ninth Symphony, whose facsimile was recently published by Barenreiter? It's not just a contemporary phenomenon: composers have always pushed at the limits of musical and notational comprehensibility. The Guardian (Tom Service), 12 January 2011 'Say "musical composition" and you identify a process: but "a musical composition" is very much a product, a commodity: and never more so than when it takes the form of materials from which performers sing or play, and academics build their theories about music history and aesthetics. Philosophers might continue to agonise about the extent to which a printed score represents the composition. Performers are much more likely to agonise about whether the materials put before them make sense and, if you ask professional musicians where they would like to see composers whose materials create tough challenges for them, "behind bars" would be one of the politer suggestions forthcoming. Composers best able to avoid the lash of performers' hostility are those lucky enough to work with a well-established publishing operation, and that means an editor like Faber Music's Elaine Gould. After more than 20 years in the business, Gould has seen (and heard) it all and Behind Bars is an encyclopedic distillation of practical professional wisdom, fully justifying its bold subtitle, "The Definitive Guide to Music Notation". Not even Gould can teach you how to compose a good work, of course: but her book is a matchless source of practical advice, all geared to the wryly understated observation that "players will tend to be well disposed towards a work whose instrumental parts are carefully prepared". The book has three main parts: "General Conventions" discusses the notational basics of pitch and rhythm, "Idiomatic Notation" has a section for each of the instrumental families, with harp and classical guitar treated separately, and one for voices: finally "Layout and Presentation" deals not only with the creation of a conventional score, but with issues in electro-acoustic and computer music that bring the story bang up to date. The copious illustration in music type (Richard Emsley was the indefatigable typesetter) show how not to do things as well as how best to do them, and although Gould makes occasional use of extracts from such composers as Elliott Cater and Jonathan Harvey, the bulk of the illustrations - which it has to be said, vary considerably in their relation to "real" music - are (presumably) of her own "composition", with help from those members of the Faber Music family mentioned in her Acknowledgements. Gould's text inevitably reflects the piecemeal manner in which music notation has evolved, with its (for outsiders) crazy mixture of instruction in French, Italian, and other languages, but offering a salutary demonstration of cultural pluralism in action, and all in the service of what is still sometimes hailed as the "universal language" of music. Perhaps that should be Western music, since other music's seem not to need guides such as this. Notation can never be so rigidly "definitive" that it leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination of interpreters: but Gould's guide is as good a source as you can get for how to ensure that your score and parts are approached in a positive spirit by those contracted to realize them as living sound.' Gramophone Magazine (Arnold Whittall), February 2011"

About the Author

Elaine Gould has been Senior New Music Editor at Faber Music since 1987, in which capacity she has edited the complex and varied scores of such composers as Oliver Knussen, Jonathan Harvey, George Benjamin, Colin Matthews and Thomas Ades. Before this she was a free-lance copyist, specialising in copying contemporary music for several leading British music publishers. She is among the most highly respected music editors currently working in the field.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very good reference. The only disappointing aspect is the index, which, contrary to the book's contents, is not very expansive.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is great if you ever find yourself stuck in the cement cell of score formatting as the foreword has directions on how to properly bake a file into a cake in the shape of a bass clef
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a great reference book! The music engraving bible! Very clear, contains all.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars 26 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Elaine Put Together A Great Resource Sept. 29 2016
By gregory michael - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Awesome book. I used it to help my friend get ready for publication. I had to consult it to make sure we were notating things correctly. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to make sure their music is easy to read. It's a pricey book, but the information is valuable to a music copyist or engraver. If you use Finale or Sibellius to compose music, you owe it to the performers that are going to perform your music to buy this book, read through it and make sure that everything is just right. Thanks Elaine!
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars Oct. 15 2016
By A. Norman Borge - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Behind Bars by Elaine Gould Sept. 29 2015
By Peter F. Lesses - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is unusually long and better printed unlike other guides for copyists like Donato and Huessenstamm, but it is not user friendly because of length and formality. At the beginning she makes apologies for anything that might be construed as wrong or different from other books. Whoever reads this, would do well to take notes on digression from standard practice. The author comments that she was influenced by Gardner Read's Music Notation, which is very well written and interesting, unlike her book. I do own the former, but have virtually never used it. Behind Bars by comparison is too terse and arduous to get through. The examples are printed in a standardized text format though unlike the two above I studied, which use amateurish handwritten examples. This is a good point; otherwise, it's an ordeal to read and decipher. The title is clever with a tongue in cheek allusion to the pathetic state of contemporary music. A conflict arises between the stricture of bar lines what BB emphasizes or the mayhem without them. The good question is whether BB will sustain as a reference through the years. The concept of aleatoric devices, which use and placement could be explained in one sentence like blowing your nose (her hidden sense of humor), and unmetered music. could be eliminated to reduce the page numbers. I have little interest in unsynchronized music, which looks like medieval organum and wonder about expressionless subliminal electronic music . The section on synchronized unrhythmic music seems like gibberish. Sometimes I was confused where a musical example would be worth ten words. Throughout the book I could never figure out what she meant by the word "system". The English equivalents for notes-hemi, semi, demi threw me off, but I found out later that they're explained in the back of the book. The chapters on percussion and modern vocal practices are especially dull, tiresome and weird although there is a valuable part on how to syllabalize words. In the former there is even consideration for the placement of players, parts and stands in that section so I gather there must be a special notation for one to conk the other over the head on the down beat or in syncopation. One must realize that this book brings forward all the principles used in Kurt Stone's book on notation so why buy his for $60 when you can get this through Amazon for around $54. Plus she includes standard practice that existed before his nightmarish book came out. The biggest issue with contemporary music is how much control the composer has over the music, and this book tries to account for the eccentricities of performance. Add it to your library, but beware.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly a milestone in the history of music notation Oct. 30 2011
By PianoGuyFromSC - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This huge (650-page) volume is a must addition to the library of anyone who is seriously involved in writing or editing published music. It covers virtually every conceivable notational dilemma, including writing for specific instrument groups, and the proper layout of scores. The author has decades of experience and it shows, but she is not pedantic and has a sense of humor (as the title might indicate). The book is loaded with musical examples as well as descriptive text.

If you are not a music professional, do NOT spend 100 dollars on this book. There are plenty of simple volumes that will give you the basics of notation for most purposes. But as an editor for a music publisher, I consider it well worth the money and will keep it close to my desk along with my dictionary and orchestration manuals!
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As the subtitle says, it's the definitive guide to music notation July 4 2011
By Joseph - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Behind Bars is the Bible of music notation for fully notated music, be it band, choral, orchestral, or experimental. It doesn't address lead sheets or other pop notation, so songwriters, jazz, and popular musicians may not find it as useful, but for its target audience--composers, arrangers, orchestrators, and the like--it is an invaluable resource. Think of it as the Chicago Manual of Style for music. I cannot recommend it highly enough.