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I’ve decided to tweak my scores by adding more sordino directions so that players can prepare their instruments in advance, but I’m not entirely clear on what to write and where to write it, so I have a few questions:

  1. Regarding instructions to put on the mutes, I’m thinking of adding “(to sord.)” after the final non-muted notes and then “con sord.” above the first muted notes. Is this appropriate?

  2. Regarding instructions to take off the mutes, how should I handle this? I work with contemporary (film) scores, and I’ve only ever seen “senza sord.” used right as the non-muted passage starts, but Google tells me some also use “via sord.” right after the final muted notes to tell the player to remove the mute before the senza sord. passage begins. Should I use both of them, or just one? If so, which?

  3. When the first passage of a score is played con sordino, but that muted passage only starts several bars or even pages later, should I add “(to sord.)” at the beginning of the score, or should I assume players will already be informed the first notes they play are muted?

  4. Finally, do these instructions (placement, terms used, etc.) differ at all between different instruments and sections (strings, brass, etc.)?

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According to Elaine Gould in Behind Bars, which most agree is the definitive text on notation and preparing parts:

"Position a mute instruction after player numbers (if these are specified), as the first of any technical instructions, since the player needs time to attach or remove the mute...The instruction *senza sord" goes before the first unmuted notes. the less commonly used via sord is placed directly after a muted passage and is a useful warning to the player - for instance, if taking off the mute coincides with a page turn...The terms ord., nat., or norm cancel non-standard techniques....Con sord is cancelled by senza sord."

All this is found on pgs. 426-427 in her book. I recommend getting this book if you are doing much composing.

  • Would that I could afford it! It’s been quoted to me so many times in answers to questions I post here … :P But thank you. – Walter Aug 21 at 2:13
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    It is a necessary expense for serious composers. I balked at the price, too. But when I got $ at Christmas or my birthday, I bought it. I use it on every piece. Starting to memorize some of the information now... – Heather S. Aug 21 at 11:50
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    Funny story, I asked around and it turns out someone I know has a copy they’re willing to lend me. Plan to do some serious reading and note-taking. – Walter Aug 21 at 12:04
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    @Walter, that's great! – Heather S. Aug 22 at 2:43
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In the player's part, a long rest is written as a "multibar rest" which only takes up the space of a single bar's rest, even if the actual rest is 10 or 100 bars long. Therefore, except at page turns, there is no real need to warn the player in advance about mute changes, because the information is in front of their eyes anyway.

A long rest is a good place to put a page turn in a player's part, but the player will know that there will be some music to play right at the start of the next page, and will quickly learn from experience to look ahead to see what is coming next without any special prompting.

There is no value in putting a marking in the score which says "this player will need a mute 5 pages further on" because nobody reading the score needs to know that.

If there is a muted passage with a long rest in the middle, it makes sense to repeat the mute indication after the rest, simply to avoid any doubt in the player's mind, and also to remind anyone reading the score that the mute is still required.

This is what the player's part might looks like, and it is fairly obvious that adding "to sord" or "via sord" wouldn't make it any clearer.

enter image description here

  • Thank you for the answer. In that case, why do some scores include “to sord.” and via sord.” if it isn’t needed? Are those just for the conductor’s score then (even though that’s not the score given to the player)? – Walter Aug 21 at 1:48
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So, using two answers here (thanks!) and some more research online, I believe I’ve settled upon some good and broadly applicable rules that I’ll be implementing:

  1. For putting on mutes, pretty much what I thought; add “(to sord.)” or similar at the first available rest preceding a muted passage, then add “con sord.” above the first muted note as a reminder.

  2. For taking off mutes, use “(via sord.)” at the first available rest preceding an unmuted passage, then add “senza sord.” above the first unmuted note as a reminder.

  3. For noting music that begins muted, Elaine Gould’s Behind Bars only says to add a preparatory instruction “at the first available rest”, so I’ll take that as confirmation to add a “(to sord.)” instruction on the first rest at the start of the score.

  4. Mute instructions are largely identical in their placement and writing for both strings and brass, though for brass instruments the use of English names (“straight mute”, “cup mute”, etc.) is sometimes preferred over Italian instructions.

That said, if anyone has any comments or other ideas, I’d love to hear those too.

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