Can’t hear the music for the markings!
(throw away that pencil)

published September 29 2015

Ok so a while ago someone looked at my music on the stand at home and asked if I had started learning that piece yet. I replied that yes, in fact I performed it the week before. Shescore was very surprised and when I asked why, she said it was because there were no marks in the score! To which I naturally exclaim that I think pencils are the enemy to music.

That’s right, I make no marks in the score whatsoever. Done freaking out? I find that it really distracts me from any original thought I might have. I see a pencil mark telling me to do something and it completely destroys what I might have felt like doing at that moment.

When I see marks in the part, I start to “play the markings” rather than the music. I play the dynamic that’s marked or do the accelerando that’s marked. Really, do I absolutely need to be reminded to do that? In the orchestra, do I really need to mark in that the clarinet is playing with me?  If I do, it’s a sure sign that I don’t actually know the piece well yet and what am I doing performing it then?

When a piece of music sits well within me and makes sense there is no need for a scribble that tells me to play softer here or there. It just is the way it happens. I don’t need or want a reminder at the top of the page as to what the piece is all about or what character I should try to create. I should know that already.

As I play a lot of violin music, I have to ‘rearrange’ certain parts frequently. The violin’s range is lower than the flute and so things like arpeggios and so on need to be turned around or re-voiced. To write that in the part would make it especially busy to look at and just wouldn’t work.

Even in the cases of a misprint in the score, I will not mark the error. Again, it would simply look to me like a big DANGER DANGER WARNING WRONG NOTE UP AHEAD and it’s entirely too distracting. Have you ever noticed your mind flits away from the music just for an instant when you see a mark in the part? Simply learn the right note(s) and internalise it. Everything becomes internalised and then it will always be there.

I find that scores with lots of marks in them (sometimes where it’s near impossible to actually read the print) sort of shifts the focus from ourselves to the paper too much. For me anyway, it’s almost like saying to my brain, ‘ok don’t think, all you need is on the paper’. But blink at the wrong time and you’re toast.


As I’ve said in other places, I do tend to play without music in front of me so obviously markings would be rather useless. But let’s get off the page. Putting a mark on the score further ties us to it.