There are two different conventions I have seen for orchestra scores. In one, the full orchestra is shown on every page. Even if the flutes don't play a single note, (for example) their staff appears filled with rests. I find this kind of score easier to conduct from because my eyes are used to looking for each instrument in it's regular place in score order. In the other convention, which I'll call "optimized," any instrument that does not play on a page does not appear at all. In this manner many more measures of music can fit on a page because two or three "systems" of music can fit vertically if many instruments are resting. Naturally, optimized scores use far less paper.

Now here is my question. I'm working on a large piece for orchestra and chorus, around 40 minutes in five movements. For most of the movements, enough of the orchestra is playing that I wouldn't be able to fit two systems on many pages. So I decided to use the first convention and include every staff on every page. But one movement is performed with only strings, woodwinds, and chorus. With no brass or percussion, I could save many pages by optimizing this one movement. Would such a score cause confusion or turn away conductors? I have never seen a score that switches between optimized and not mid-stream.

EDIT: If it matters, I use Finale.

2 Answers 2


Would such a score cause confusion or turn away conductors?

Absolutely not. Especially if it's the whole movement, nobody is going to be confused. But really, it's such a common practice, as is conductors' studying and marking up their scores beforehand, that there's really no reason to avoid it even within a single movement.

Furthermore, there are reasons to employ the practice: A score with lots of empty staves has more page turns, and it's probably harder to read a passage for strings and flute with all those empty brass and woodwind staves in between.

So use your judgment, do what you think makes the score easiest to use, and listen to the people who actually use it.


Since it's a full and isolated movement, that shouldn't be an issue.

You can consider each movement as a single piece, and what's written in the first page of a piece is the full instrumentation required for that piece alone.

This is common for symphonies and Opera, where some instruments or voices actually play only in some movements. Imagine having an Opera with 10 lead singers: there's no point in having all of their (empty) staves in the whole score if most of them rarely sing all together.

Take for instance the second score available for Beethoven's 9th symphony on IMSLP (not the manuscript): it's a full score, and there are lots of pages that are not reduced even if only some instruments are playing, but choir and percussions are only introduced in the last movements.

This is not only useful for reading purposes (as having hundreds of pages with possibly dozens of empty staves is pointless) but also important for rehearsal (and performance), as conductors can easily request the musicians required for a specific movement they want to rehearse, or ensure that they are ready to play when that movement is beginning.

  • Even the trombones appear out of nowhere in the middle of the second movement on page 66.
    – phoog
    Jul 31, 2021 at 1:08
  • 2
    No worry about the trombones, everyone knows that part :)
    – nuggethead
    Jul 31, 2021 at 1:09
  • 2
    @phoog yes, but even if it's within a movement, it's an important section (the Presto, almost like a sub-movement), and they don't play for the next ~60 bars. Jul 31, 2021 at 1:16

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