I've written my first orchestral score, and I've engraved it, as best I can, in a style to serve recording it by a conductor and orchestra on a sound stage in a short session, Hollywood soundtrack style. The focus is on readability so they can render it from sight reading in very few takes.

I've found lots of resources for how to properly engrave all the parts of the score (especially the book Behind Bars by Elaine Gould), but one aspect still eludes me:

What is the modern practice to indicate that only the section leader should play for a passage, and then what is the best way to indicate the whole section should play again for a later passage?

Some may be inclined to answer "Solo and Tutti, respectively", but it appears that at least the word "Solo" has come to mean more a playing style and it isn't modern practice to use that to indicate only one player.

I have found what I think is the correct answer, which is to put 1 at the beginning of the passage for the section leader. Assuming that is correct, is that only acceptable when the player numbers are indicated at the beginning of the score (e.g., first system says "Flutes 1, 2, 3" and then later a passage may be marked "1" or "1, 2" to indicate those players play the passage)? And that still doesn't clarify for me the modern way to indicate "Tutti" - is the word still acceptable or should it say "1, 2, 3" or something else?

  • 1
    For sure one option would be to split up the voices in a staff “solo” and one “tutti”, as is done when the rest of the section actually plays something different underneath the solo. That would certainly be very clear, albeit wasteful in terms of space. — Pretty sure there's a simpler alternative. Oct 14, 2020 at 20:16
  • @leftaroundabout That's my plan for the parts (I'm being my own orchestrator and copyist), so I'm mainly asking about the full score, where I have worked hard to maintain a consistent number of systems on every page for maximum readability. Also I think the non-solo staff would be more properly labeled with a word starting with "a" that means "the others" and I can't find the exact word right now. Oct 14, 2020 at 20:27
  • @leftaroundabout Found it: The phrase indicting the members of a section who are not playing a solo is gli altri or G.A. (Italian for "the others". Oct 14, 2020 at 20:45

1 Answer 1


For woodwinds and brass the standard is to write a separate part for each instrument. If you are combining parts in the score it's usual to indicate a solo as "1." or "2." and then "a2" (or "a3") afterwards.

Each of the five string section parts is put on one part (although you could theoretically combine the first and second violins on a two-system part). If you want a solo violin you write "1 solo" and the rest as "tutti" (or "gli altri"). If you want two soloists: "2 soli".

From Elaine Gould's reference "Behind Bars":

The terms solo (for one player) and soli (for two or more players) are instructions to play in a soloistic manner.

For woodwind, brass and percussion, a single player alone is labelled by player number.

In a string section an individual player must be labelled by numeral and solo to avoid confusion with desk or division number: 1 solo etc.

  • I think this is the right answer. Gould's admonition regarding the terms solo and soli is what prompted this question. Oct 14, 2020 at 21:01
  • @ToddWilcox If you have Gould's book, everything you need to know is in there.
    – PiedPiper
    Oct 14, 2020 at 21:22
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    Her book answered 90% of my engraving questions. This one it was not clear on to me. Oct 14, 2020 at 23:56

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