Marking Your Music & Notation Dictionary

Marking Your Music

Developing a good system to mark your music effectively is one of the best gifts you can give yourself! There's a myriad of mental and physical processes occurring simultaneously when learning and playing. Anything you can do to prioritize your focus and concentration will be an added bonus, allowing you to work smarter, not harder. Think of it like a computer - the more RAM available, the better the experience!

Using colors is a fantastic way to help your brain quickly process information. Out of the many systems used to mark music, I have found this to be the best and most effective way to learn, practice, and perform music (the way the composer intended).

The system below was adopted from Dr. Lawrence “Larry” Stoffel , director of bands at the California State University.

Music Notation Dictionary

Is there a symbol in your music you've never seen before? Look it up here.

Color Key

You will need the following 6 colors to mark your music successfully. I highly recommend Prismacolor Col-Erase erasable colored pencils (12-pack) for marking your music.

Dynamics (Red & Blue)

Notice the following details in color coding dynamics:

      • "ississimo's" (ppp and fff) are filled in solid.

      • "issimo's" (pp and ff) are heavier circles.

      • Regular p and f are light circles.

      • Anything mezzo (m) is underlined.

      • Crescendo and diminuendo are marked with the color on TOP side of the symbol.

      • Crescendo and diminuendo start UNDERNEATH and at the beginning of the word and will continue until the new dynamic level is reached. This line could be many measures long.

      • Colors match the dynamic side of the fp's.

Tempo (Green)

Notice the following details in color coding tempo:

      • Accelerando and ritardando use an ARROW to indicate the change in tempo and start UNDERNEATH the word and will continue until the new tempo is reached. This line could be many measures long.

      • The number above the fermatta indicates the approximate length of the hold.

      • Morendo means "dying" in Italian. It not only gets slower, but it gets softer at the same time. This is why BLUE is present.

Meter (Orange)

Notice the following details in color coding meter:

      • The orange number above the time signature indicates the counts you should be feeling in each measure (big beats), not the subdivisions (small beats).

      • Write the number (or symbol) above the top staff and below the bottom staff whenever a meter change occurs.

      • The tick mark (slash) represents where the "extra" beat goes. For example in 5/8 time signature, beats can be grouped in two ways: 3+2 or 2+3. The tick mark will indicate where the uneven beat goes.

Explanation of Simple, Irregular, and Compound Meter:

The term simple means that each beat can be broken into two notes.

    • Examples of simple meter are 2/4, 2/2, 2/8, 3/4, 3/2, 3/8, 4/4, 4/2, and 4/8.

    • Notice that a time signature in simple meter will always have a 2, 3, or 4 for the top number.

While beats in simple meter are divided into two notes, beats in compound meter are divided into three.

    • Examples of compound meter include 6/8, 9/8, 9/2, 9/4, 9/16, 12/8, 12/16.

    • All compound meters will have some dotted note as its beat.

Irregular meter forms an asymmetrical pattern sequence of two or more time signatures.

    • A 5/8 time signature, for example, is usually understood as the sum of two simple meters 3/8 + 2/8 or 2/8 + 3/8.

Simple Time Signatures

Simple time signatures are marked with a numeral indicating the number of beats per bar.

Irregular or Compound Meters

Irregular or compound meters are marked with a geometric shape indicating the number of beats per bar.

Additional Information (Yellow)

Yellow should be used to mark:

      • Articulation symbols such as staccato, legato, tenuto, or bowing instructions like ponticello, flautando, etc.

      • Bowing (up, down, slurs, etc.)

      • Mutes on/off

      • Measure/rehearsal numbers.

      • Grand pauses ( // )

      • Breath marks ( ' )

Unique Attributes (Purple)

Purple should be used to mark:

      • Important places to watch the conductor, section leader, or another section leader.

      • Miscellaneous "road map" markings that tell you to go to a different place in the music. If marking a repeat, BOTH ends of the repeat should be marked in purple.

Examples for Marking Music

Score Marking Examples.pdf