Writing Staff Notation

For many non-reading, ear-trained musicians, the best way to learn staff may not be to practice reading it. The best way to learn staff may be to practice writing it. Learning to write music is a great idea for all musicians. If you want to improve your reading skills, try writing notes on a page of staff paper. Start by just copying a line of music from a book. You will learn all sorts of details about written music that you probably wouldn’t notice otherwise.

It takes a little time and effort to learn to write readable music. First, you should learn how to draw notes on a staff. There are rules about writing music, like which direction the stem goes on which notes. In treble clef, the stems point down for B and all notes higher. The stems point up for A and all notes lower.

I like reading my hand-written parts because they’re large and easy to read. You will probably have to experiment with different types of pencils, pens and markers. In college, we had to write parts with a calligraphy pen, but I don’t like them. Ball-point pens are also no good because the ink isn’t dark enough.

I have a combination of pens and a particular size paper I like to use for writing parts in staff. My favorite is the Pentel Rolling Writer. Bic Metal Points are also good, though Uniball fine points are easier to find. Sharpies are good for coloring-in notes, but not drawing the outlines. You should also get a few good-quality mechanical pencils. These are almost all special-order items, and you may have to buy them in quantities of a dozen. Most retail office supplies only sell their best-quality pens and pencils online.

Make sure you have staff paper that is formatted large enough that you can read and write comfortably. To me, most printed blank music paper is too small. I take a piece of blank music paper and make enlarged photocopies to write on. I usually enlarge blank music paper to about 115%.

The other way to write music is on a computer. Musescore is a free, open-source program that makes writing parts in staff notation fast and easy. If you plan to go to music school, then you should learn to write music in a program like Musescore.

Whether you’re writing with pen and paper, or writing in Musescore, learn a little at a time, and practice. You can even have a little fun with it. Frank Zappa sometimes drew abstract designs and pictures into his staff parts which the musicians interpreted by improvising.

Best mechanical pencil available. Treat yourself to a lifetime supply. The only place I can find them is Amazon. Search for:

SKILCRAFT Mechanical Pencil, .7mm, Medium Pt.,12/Box, Black Barrel (7520-01-317-6140)

© 2019, 2020 Greg Varhaug