The Sheet Music Whisperer

Few parts of the job of a composer are as boring or tedious as music preparation, also known as copy work. And yet, when it comes to communicating your ideas to the other people who must execute them, no job is more important.

Copy work can be described as the visual presentation of music on the page. The people who do this work professionally are called copyists. In musical theatre, copyists are typically the LAST people to touch the sheet music. After the music has been composed, arranged, and orchestrated, the copyist will craft the individual charts that each musician will play from.

Unfortunately, it’s rare to be on a production where you can work with a copyist. Most of the time the task falls to the composer, the music director, or sometimes the musicians themselves.

The problems arise when these people have little to no experience in writing good charts. They may know how to write a vocal lead sheet, or a piano part, but what happens when they have to write a string part? A drum part? A GUITAR PART?? (Seriously you guys, guitar parts are the worst. Unless you play guitar yourself, give up. It’s a hopeless enterprise.)

Fortunately, I just stumbled upon the BEST THING EVER. Professional NYC-based percussionist and copyist, Jeremy Yaddaw, has created the greatest YouTube series about music copy: The Chart Life.

Jeremy in his natural habitat. PC: Matthew Murphy,

In the series, Jeremy covers various aspects of creating effective, intuitive, and easily readable charts.

Not to toot my own horn, but I have been known to write some pret-ty good charts myself. And yet I was riveted watching these videos. There aren’t a lot of people with good music copy skills, and so just hearing Jeremy touch on the intricacies of the topic was extremely gratifying.

My favorite so far is this one on the basics of drum set notation:

Short of learning from this amazing series, the only way to really improve at copy work is through trial and error. Do your musicians have a difficult time playing your charts on the first read? Is a lot of time taken up at rehearsal answering questions? Do you see your musicians having to scribble in lots of additional notations for themselves?

As Jeremy suggests, talking to your musicians both before and after working with them can give you some great insights as to how you can improve your charts.

I’ve had the supreme pleasure of working with Jeremy Yaddaw (‘Yaddaw’ rhymes with ‘Shadow’) on multiple occasions. He’s a consummate musician and unbelievably detailed, thorough, and consistent.

Unsurprisingly, these videos are exactly the same, and his copy work is no exception. And he does it all: vocal lead sheets, orchestrations, arrangements, transcriptions, and of course writing for rhythm sections. (It’s almost like he enjoys the pain?)

I highly recommend that if you’re looking to garner tips on how to improve your charts, subscribe to this series immediately.

Or better yet — if you’re looking to save yourself the time and trouble all together, just hire Jeremy to do all the dirty work…er, I mean “copy work” for you!

Follow Jeremy on Twitter and Instagram, and check out his website.

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Actor / Writer / Idealist I believe a good story has the power to change the way people feel, think, and act. I'm a storyteller with a passion for changing the world and leaving it better than I found it.

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