I'vw composed a piece of music that contains various sound effects, most notably movie trailer-style "braaaam" horn sounds, and large, synthetic drum hits that don't fall within the drum part. For the purpose of my qualification I have to write a full traditional score for this, and I couldn't find anything about a convention for how to notate sound effects like this on a score.

Is there an existing convention for how to notate sounds like these on a score, or any ideas on good ways to do it? These can't really be notated in with the horn or drum parts as they're completely distinct from those musical parts.

  • I'd suspect giving them their own separate parts (a la "timpani", "cymbals", "bass drum", etc.) would do the trick.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 0:57
  • Are they all triggered from a keyboard? Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 19:30
  • @OldBrixtonian the piece is actually 100% digital, although even though it will never be played by humans I'm required to produce a score for it.
    – nihilazo
    Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 6:57

2 Answers 2


The best way of notating sound effects is the same way you would notate a percussion part. There are three possibilities depending on the complexity you need:

  • Put each effect on a single-line percussion system.
  • Use a 5-line percussion system and assign each effect to a specific line or space.
  • Use a 5-line percussion system and write the name of the effect over each entry.
  • If a keyboard player is going to be playing the effects, use a 10-line grand staff and assign each effect to a note (naming the effects the first time they're played).

Or use some combination of these methods.

A couple of examples enter image description here enter image description here

  • Writing the name of the effect over each entry makes the most sense for music where human players are actually expected to play the effects parts (a la concert band pieces where a percussionist needs to play brake drums and glockenspiel at different points).
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 18:34
  • @Dekkadeci It depends on how complex the music is. Above a certain level of complexity writing the names of the effects every time can get very cluttered. If the effects are going to be played on a keyboard, modern keyboard players are used to just playing the notes and have all sorts of different sounds come out, although it's a good idea to name the effects the first time they occur.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 19:59

I don't think that there is any standard for this. If there is, I didn't hear of it.

The best thing would be to use some notehead type that is not used elsewhere and then simply notate your intentions with written instructions.

In the end what matters most is that your intentions are clear to the musicians.

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