In my previous post on jazz notation, I discussed some of the ways that understanding the band’s default performance practice can help you to write cleaner, more effective notation. Here are a few more tips for producing scores that are easily readable and will get you the performance you want.
One thing that people seem to be vocal and passionate about is how to write chord symbols. There are many ways to write them, but the important thing is to be clear. Of course, clarity also seems to be the most common justification that people give for putting way too many characters in their chord symbols.
Let’s look at a few examples and see what is clear and what is not. I will start by saying that most of the defaults in our notation software are not ideal. Regardless of which spelling system you use, make sure the fonts match and the extension size is readable.
I like to use the shorthand. I hear someone saying, “Oh, but not everyone knows what it means”. Really? I have used them for years and never had an issue in Australia, Europe, or the States. If someone is unsure what they mean, they will ask, and then they will know. The other reason I like them is that they are compact. If you are going to use Cmaj7, you are taking up a lot of space. Try to fit four chords to a bar like that.
This is of particular interest to me, being both a drummer and an arranger. There are many styles of drum part. I have seen and played hundreds of terrible drum charts. Drum parts are unlike any other in the band. The player must interpret up to 100% of the part, as they are just guides. In order to write a good part, you need to know not only what information to give the drummer, but also understand how they will interpret and use that information.
- Slashes = Time. Most people write the word ‘time’ or write some sort of pattern. I have started writing just the slashes and have never had a drummer just start to solo or ask what to do. A tip; don‚Äôt keep repeating slashes if there is no change, use 1 bar repeats and number the end of the phrase.
Another way of doing this was to write ‘Play 8,’ etc., without printing the individual measures. The problem I have with this is that if the drummer wishes to write in something, perhaps a cue that is added or one the writer did not think he needed, he does not have the bars to do it in.
- Ensemble notation above. Set up the figures and then incorporate that into the time. Some people label the notes with ‘Ens,’ but it is pretty obvious what it is. If there is no description it is the full band or the most important part. If it is just saxes or trombones, it is good to mark it as such as the set up will not need to be as big.
- Ensemble below is used for lower or other hits, most commonly trombone parts or bass pushes. These tend to get less priority. So the important stuff goes above, and secondary stuff goes below. It is written on the bass drum line; it does not mean that the drummer will play the bass drum, but of course he may.
- Rhythmic notation means to focus on the rhythm, at the expense of the time.
All jazz drummers know what a swing pattern is and what to do with brushes. There are default patterns, so unless you need something else, say it is a modern chart with a non standard beat, slashes do the trick.
One thing I see some arrangers do is to decide what parts of a figure the drummer needs to hit, and thus see. I think a good drummer knows (and a student should learn) what parts of a line to hit or set up, so it is best to give them the whole line. The problem that can happen if you don’t give them the whole line is that they will fill or set up what they see and potentially trample over the band.
There are differing views on what lines should be used for the various pieces of the drum kit. Here are my preferences. If you use these, you will not get questions and nothing should need a label.
Should you have to write an actual part, remember that stems for the hands go up and feet go down.
And finally, here is a drum part from one of my pieces.