[Smt-talk] rhythm notation pedagogy

Paul Siskind siskinpa at potsdam.edu
Sun Sep 26 05:33:34 PDT 2010

Hi David:  In my experience, today's students aren't necessarily any more
clueless about rhythm notation than, say, 15 years ago.  Many of them come
to college knowing how to read rhythm, but have never been in a situation
(nor taken the time) to think about how to apply the principles/process in
reverse.  (Of course, some do start college with weak reading skills too
(i.e. vocalists), but that's a different problem).

And I'm not convinced that computer notation programs are to blame; just
as one needs to know the rules of notation to use pencil and paper, one
needs to know the rules in order to tweak Finale/Sibelius to look correct.
 After all, thy are just tools (even though most people who use them
expect them to be more).  The sloppy band parts you mention are the fault
of poor editing/publishing practices, not the programs themselves.

That said....

The long-time standard books about music notation (i.e. Kurt Stone and
Gardner Read) are probably too detailed too expensive for what you need. 
In my Orchestration and my Choral Arranging courses, I have my students
work from the following:

The Norton Manual of Music Notation, by George Heussenstamm (WW Norton)

It's a thin paperback, so it's not too expensive as an add-on text.  It
discusses how to notate using pencil and paper, so it focuses on the
principles rather than the aesthetic look.  Yet, it contains good info
notational principles, without getting bogged down in extraneous and
obscure details.

If you're looking for a book that discusses how to tweak Finale/Sibelius
to bring them up to professional standards, here's another option:

Music Engraving Today, by Steven Powell (Brichtmark)

It's a great book filled with detailed info about how to prepare
top-quality typesetting.  (I wish that more desk-top publishers and
self-publishing composers would become familiar with it.)  However, even
though it deals with the principles you're looking for, it covers so much
other detailed info that it might not be the best choice for your
beginning theory classes.

I hope this info helps.

> Collective Wisdom:
> I find that entering students are ever more clueless regarding standard
> practice for notating rhythm with proper respect to meter. My hunch is
> that careless computer notation is to blame--including now second-order
> effects on students who don't necessarily use digital notation tools
> themselves, but see more and more abominably-notated rhythm in their band
> arrangements and other parts.
> Oddly, I have not seen any standard theory or fundamentals texts that
> explains standard beaming and grouping both fully and clearly. So I have
> done so myself, in supplementary materials. Traditional practice is not
> all that hard to codify, and once codified, not hard to impart. My
> question is, is anyone familiar with any published text that *does* cover
> this adequately?
> Thanks for any enlightenment.
> David
> David Feurzeig
> University of Vermont
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Dr. Paul A. Siskind                        Home:
Professor of Composition and Theory        Sweet Child Music
The Crane School of Music, SUNY-Potsdam    69 N. Main Street
Potsdam, NY  13676                         Norwood, NY  13668
(315) 267-3241                             (315) 353-2389

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