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Why hire a professional music copyist ?

How much time in your last rehearsal was spent debating the arrangements as opposed to actually playing them ?

Now, I don't mean a workshop, where the mutual intention of the musicians is to experiment with aspects of a tune in hopes of eventually agreeing on an arrangement . By 'rehearsal', I mean a gathering of musicians to play through tunes as a run-through for an imminent performance.

Early in my 35+ years as a professional pianist, I wasted countless hours in rehearsals - many due to my own bad charts ! - sorting out repeat sections and rhythmic figures with my fellow players, or transposing inadequately on the fly because the music in front of me wasn’t in the right key for the singer . Needless to say,this white-knuckle approach to the music didn’t serve the music particularly well, and all because I, or whomever the bandleader was, didn’t take the time and care to think through and write clear, thorough charts, leaving the individual musicians to scratch cryptic instructions wherever there was space . Usually this space was at the bottom of the page, which at best interrupted the flow of music, and became more illegible and mistake- prone each time the chart was passed from sub to sub .

I eventually experienced the dignity of working with professionals whose charts were self - explanatory . By the time I began working as a Music Director, I’d learned from these leaders that the way to get the best out of my colleagues' precious rehearsal time was to invest my own time beforehand in creating logical, easily read charts .

Why hire a professional music copyist ?

To save time, money and your reputation in the long run ! In short, your music copyist takes the time to find the most efficient ways to tell the story of your arrangement so you and your band don’t have to, by anticipating such questions as what’s the feel / groove, how many times to repeat a given section, how should a new section be cued, how does the ending differ from the rest of the tune, etc.

inwrittenlanguagecertainconventionscapitalizationpunctuationparagraph indentationtonameafewguideusthroughanideaorstoryregardlessofitscontent

I'm sorry - could you repeat that, please ?

Certainly . In written language, certain conventions - capitalization, punctuation, paragraph indentation, to name a few - guide us through an idea or story, regardless of its content . . .

Oh. Thank you !

. . . You're most welcome . . . and the conventions of music copying do the same . A well-copied piece of music (chart) is one which, with no prior discussion of the Road Map (see below), can be sight-read accurately by the entire band top to bottom no more than twice, and quite often only once. The things that bog us down in rehearsal (questions about groove and form - e.g. intros, repeats, new sections, endings) are addressed by a well thought out chart in real time using the universal symbols conceived for that very reason . Given that most tunes are under 4 minutes in length, in a 2-hour rehearsal with clear Road Maps a band could easily get through 15 - 30 tunes .

But my band doesn't read music very well / at all !

Even if your players don’t identify as strong readers, they can learn in one session the handful of the universal symbols extolled above !

What do I get with a professionally copied chart ?

In addition to the melodic, chordal, rhythmic and dynamic language specific to the particular instrument, a good chart doesn't leave the player wondering what's supposed to be played next. Indications on a professionally copied chart include, but aren't limited to :

Title / Headers / Footers

The title of the song appears at the top (or bottom, if you prefer) of each page of the part. This small detail saves a lot of confusion when you’re on the clock !

Composer / Arranger

‘nuff said

Tempo /Groove

Indication of feel ( e.g. Medium Swing, Country ‘2’feel , Straight 8th, Ballad, Manic Surfer Vibe)

Clearly marked metronome markings

Articulated drum / rhythm section grooves /shots

Road Map (Form)

Questions around form (the Road Map) squander the majority of non-playing time in lengthy rehearsals . A well-copied chart delineates the Road Map of the piece - that is, where the Intro, Verse, Chorus, Interludes, Vamps, Instrumental Sections, Dal Segno, and Coda, among others, begin, end, repeat and reappear - in real time using such devices as Rehearsal Marks, Double Barlines, Repeat Barlines, 1st and 2nd Endings, Split Systems, and other universal musical symbols, and virtually guaranteeing the clean intros and endings that make a well-rehearsed impression on your listeners .


A good copyist includes rhythmic, melodic, and lyrical cues where helpful on certain parts (this comes under anticipating questions, above)


Compared to commercially available sheet music, which is largely geared toward the amateur pianist and his/her limitations, tunes and arrangements transcribed by a professional copyist from recordings are true to the recordings and easily transposed, if need be .

Vocal Part / Lyrics

The singer has a copy of his / her Road Map (see below), with the same Rehearsal Letters (or numbers), with melody, lyrics and chord symbols, ensuring everyone is following the same map. An instrument / vocal part connects the singer ( often, but not necessarily, with the pianist - though any combination of musicians on a chart is possible) with the rest of the band. The melody is also vital part of the rhythm section’s parts ( especially in jazz / latin music) because it dictates how chords should be voiced so as not to clash with the melodic line.


Specific parts for each instrument in its corresponding key / clef, using only the amount of staves/systems required for each, means the elimination of wasteful printing. (e.g. - a Lead Sheet, containing the melody, chord changes, and pertinent rhythmic and other figures, can impart in 2-3 pages what commercially available sheet music says in 5 + pages)

Editing / Personalization

If at any point you wish to alter the arrangement of the tune in any way, for example by adding or deleting sections or altering the instrumentation, the copyist can work with you to prepare a fresh version of the song according to your ideas.


Given the nature of our work, the combination of players you use today will very likely be different on a future gig . Having a book of charts which use the universal symbols for repeats, special sections, codas and all the other tools of musical communication ensures that the shape of the tune is clear and not dependent of the shorthand of the last player in the chair. A well-copied chart will serve you for as long as you and the various iterations of your band need it to. Plus, the original parts are always in your computer, or wherever you store your files, for future reference.


Not only does it show you take pride in your presentation, the one-off investment - and business expense, to boot - in a book of well-copied charts pays for itself within a few shows, and demonstrates that you value the time and musicianship of your bandmates . Above all, the clarity of a well-copied book allows you and your band to get to the music sooner !

Contact me at to discuss a copying project, or to book a coaching session on how to become a better copyist yourself . Happy rehearsing !

Holly Arsenault has meticulously copied originals and standards for Barbara Lewis, Laura Smith, Daniel Matto, Cliff LeJeune, Karen Myatt, Tomson Highway, and Micah Barnes , among others .

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