Pencil it in: One thing a good musician always remembers at rehearsal

(Photo: Brad Turner/CPR)
Photo: Music score with pencil markings

First, there’s my instrument.

Secondly, I take my score.

And last of all, I pack something which is small but definitely mighty: a pencil.


We musicians constantly need to mark our scores.

Ink is a huge no-no. Somebody else is always going to use your music after you do. You can't erase pen, but the orchestra's music librarian can go to town cleaning up pencil marks with an eraser.

So what exactly are we marking in our music? We're essentially putting in a truckload of numerous visual reminders to ourselves.

Wind and brass players make notations for breath marks and fingerings.

String players (I’m a violinist) definitely need to put in our fingerings and bowings.

A percussionist might make notes about who plays what instrument or a quick turnaround from one instrument to another.

A pencil is handy for circling particular notes we might play wrong, or to mark a place where we’re not supposed to play. We also put in certain marks for notating specific note or passage articulations.

A pencil is also critical for marking the number of beats, or pulses, in specific passages. And we use them for notating reminders of when the tempo speeds up or slows down.

My all-time favorite pencil marking? Eyeglasses.

I mark them in at places where it's extra critical to watch the conductor. Some people put in eyes. I personally leave my specs "Little Orphan Annie" style. Works great and sure grabs my attention.

There are so many other uses for the pencil (with a good eraser, thank you). We’re just scratching the surface.

Next time you’re at the orchestra, you know now that the music sitting in front of each player contains much more than just notes, thanks to something which is small but mighty -- the pencil.

Jean Inaba hosts the Baroque Show Sundays at 10 a.m. on CPR Classical.