2

A problem I repeatedly run into when notating (either composing or arranging) popular/contemporary (i.e. not classical) music is notating the song structure using an efficient combination of repeats and jumps.

The most that I can manage to notate is an AABA structure, with a normal repeat for the second A section, the B section following straight after (possibly with a 1st and 2nd volta if the ending of the second A section is different to the first), a repeat at the end of the B section going back to the beginning of the A section, and either a 3rd volta or a jump to coda for the ending of the last A section.

But give me a verse-chorus structure (e.g. ABABAB) and I wouldn't have any idea how to notate this. What about songs where the B section is repeated multiple times (e.g. AABABABB)? Where there are more than two sections, such as an instrumental bridge (e.g. AABABCB)? Or any of the other infinite possibilities for song structure?

Is there a standard way to notate such arbitrary structures? How can I notate this without having to resort to either a) an unwieldy muddle of repeat signs, voltas, and jumps, b) non-standard "repeat this bit twice then play one last repetition of the verse" or "go to bridge after second chorus" text written above the staff, or c) writing the whole thing out in full using no repeats?

  • It would also be great if we had some kind of popular-music or contemporary tag. – Micheal Johnson Dec 15 '17 at 13:43
  • Never mind I added the modern-music tag to the question. – Micheal Johnson Dec 15 '17 at 13:48
  • I'd definitely go with C. Why not? – Creynders Dec 15 '17 at 13:55
  • Well, I hate when people use the C variant too liberally, but I've seen B a few times at work in the classical guitar pieces, and it was OK (I saw this with letters A, B placed somewhere in the music, and with instructions like "D. C. al B e poi C" or D. C. al B e poi la Coda".) Other examples would include two pieces that belong together (you could have "Fantasie" and "Walzer", and at the end of the Walzer you would read "D. C. Fantasie al Fine." — that can be a little confusing, but even Germans put it in their engravings :--)) – Ramillies Dec 15 '17 at 14:00
  • @Creynders It makes the sheet music a lot more cumbersome than it needs to be and makes it harder to see at a glance which parts are identical (unless they're clearly labeled "verse", "chorus", "bridge", and so on). If each section occupies around 3/4 of a page (which is about how it normally works out for me), it should be possible to print an entire AABABCB song on 2 to 3 pages, not 7 pages once I've included 3 verses, 3 repeats of the chorus, and 1 bridge. – Micheal Johnson Dec 15 '17 at 14:14
1

But give me a verse-chorus structure (e.g. ABABAB) and I wouldn't have any idea how to notate this. What about songs where the B section is repeated multiple times (e.g. AABABABB)? Where there are more than two sections, such as an instrumental bridge (e.g. AABABCB)? Or any of the other infinite possibilities for song structure?

Verse-Chorus is not difficult. If strophic, simply write out the melodic material for AB with bookended repeats around the whole thing, changing text for "A" with each verse and leaving "B" the same, since it's the chorus. If modified-strophic, through-composed, or just plain silly, you'll need to adapt accordingly – likely won't be able to get away with many repeats; just have to suck it up and write it out.

For the multiple "B"'s example, I'd do this:

A ||:AB:||x3 B

Pretty straight-forward.

For an instrumental bridge:

A ||:AB:||x2 C B

If the structure was unbelievably obnoxious, I could see two possible solutions, one of which you alluded to: writing it all out. The other would be: writing out each discrete section, separating them on the paper, then putting a "key" at the top of the page that shows the order. This is not standard at all in popular music / notation, but it is akin to what is scene for aleatoric music, game music, and sometimes indeterminate music.

Is there a standard way to notate such arbitrary structures? How can I notate this without having to resort to either a) an unwieldy muddle of repeat signs, voltas, and jumps, b) non-standard "repeat this bit twice then play one last repetition of the verse" or "go to bridge after second chorus" text written above the staff, or c) writing the whole thing out in full using no repeats?

Depending on the song structure, I've found that it's typically a mix of "A" and "C". If you're writing a book of text to explain things, you're either Stockhausen or you need to change your notation scheme.

  • How does this work if I have e.g. ABABAB structure where the AB pair is repeated three times. I can't just put repeat signs on either end as you suggested because that will only give me a maximum of two repeats. For additional repeats I'd have to write it out again or use "D.S. al Coda". – Micheal Johnson Dec 16 '17 at 11:54
  • Also if I use these suggestions of using standard repeat signs, how do I handle small variations from one verse to the next? Say for example the first A section has lead-in X into the chorus, but the second one has lead-in Y. And then the end of the chorus is different before the bridge compared to when it leads back into the verse. Can this really all be done just with voltas and repeat signs??? – Micheal Johnson Dec 16 '17 at 11:55
  • 1
    At least in Musescore, I've seen stuff like "×3" at the ends of repeated sections to denote how many times you should repeat sections. I've even seen "1, 3" and "2, 4" for 1st-3rd and 2nd-4th endings. The 1st A section having lead-in X into the chorus while the 2nd having lead-in Y will be the toughest to notate without writing it all out, I'm afraid, except in the case of minor rhythmic differences accompanied with lyrics (where you can put the sometimes skipped notes in parentheses). – Dekkadeci Dec 16 '17 at 18:51
  • To echo what Dekkadeci said, you can specify the number of repeats you want just by writing "x[#]" where "#" equals the number of repeats you want, say "x3" for 3 times, or "x1,245". One of the most famous examples here is Satie's "Vexations" which repeats 987 times, I think? Someone can correct me. For small variations, like with syllables but same melody, you can put notes in parenthesis or sometimes add a second layer. Your X-Y example is a TEXTBOOK situation for 1st & 2nd ending before a chorus. You have a 1st & 2nd to lead into chorus and a 1st & 2nd at end of chorus. – jjmusicnotes Dec 16 '17 at 20:27
  • You should pick up a Catholic or Christian missalette - I think that would really help gives you some examples and ideas for practical solutions. – jjmusicnotes Dec 16 '17 at 20:29
0

We DO sometimes see pop song copies which resort to complex repeat structures, and even little interior sections marked 'play these bars 2nd and 4th times only' or the like. And it can be the only way to keep a copy down to a managable (and affordable) number of pages. Just do the best you can.

There's a set of rules for music intended for sight-reading on e.g. a film scoring session. Repeats and jumps are forbidden, everything must be aimed at maximum clarity. But no-one's going to be sight-reading a pop song copy. (Well maybe at a Musical Theatre audition, but the prime definition of an audition accompanist is 'one who is used to coping magnificently with un-helpful notation' :-) We can be more forgiving.

0

Since the question concerns popular music, and since the vocal melody can vary from verse to verse, the use of repeats can be problematic if you are after a faithful notation of the song. We have to deal with the notion of real repeats vs 'notional repeats', or, as Frank Zappa asked, 'Is that a real poncho, or is that a Sears poncho?' It would be a lame rendition of Stairway to Heaven, for example, if you resorted to repeats for the vocal part. If the song is your own, you probably don't want the world to miss out on the subtle nuances in the third iteration of the chorus.

Many have grappled, but few have gained purchase. I have seen published piano sheet music for pop songs that relied upon multiple codas and dal segno segno segnos to get its point across.Brief indications near the repeats/voltas are not frowned upon, but I rely on notation software and rehearsal marks a mundo.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.