Preparing the Score

This tab offers some practical ways that you can prepare and label a score prior to, or during, rehearsal. Musical considerations that dictate these markings can be found in the Basic Registration and Orchestration tabs.

First Impressions

Look at the musical style and overall structure of the piece. What era is the piece from? Is it Baroque? Romantic? Was it originally written for organ, orchestra, or piano? What is the form of the piece? Ternary? Ritornello? If it is clearly in ABA form, mark those sections. If there are multiple stanzas of text, number them. What is the texture of the accompaniment? Is it polyphonic? Pianistic? Melody plus accompanying harmonies? Is there a separate pedal part, or is it left to the knowledge or discretion of the organist?

Take note of difficult sections and give these some extra attention. Look for key changes, new time signatures, places with multiple accidentals, and areas that just look difficult at first glance. If you find it helpful, highlight key changes and time signature changes with a highlighter or colored pencil. Circle awkward accidentals. If you cannot play all of the notes on the upper staff with the right hand, plan and mark which notes will be taken by the left hand, and vice versa. Look at the choir’s phrasing and see how it relates to the organ accompaniment. Should the organ breathe with the choir or should it continue through a phrase?

Whatever marks you choose to add to your score, mark them in such a way that you will be able to notice them in less-than-ideal circumstances. Plan ahead for dim lighting, distractions, a sight-line to the conductor, and for feeling nervous during a performance. Preparing your score thoroughly will remove potential obstacles later.

Turning Pages

Unless you have someone available to turn pages for you, plan your page turns ahead of time. If you are unable to turn a page without negative musical repercussions, photocopy a few measures before or after the turn and tape it to the relevant page. A little time spent sorting this out prior to the performance can help avoid potential problems.

Indicating Piston Changes

When indicating general and divisional pistons on the score, mark them with different symbols. In this excerpt, general pistons are in a triangle and divisionals are in a circle with the Swell manual indicated to differentiate it from other divisionals. Feel free to use any similar system that quickly tells you exactly which button to push.

Gabriel Fauré, “Cantique de Jean Racine,” ed. John Rutter (Oxford University Press, 1986), mm. 9–10.

You may wish to assign certain piston categories to specific locations on the staff. For instance, mark generals between the treble and bass staves, Swell pistons above the treble staff, Choir pistons below the bass manual staff, and Pedal pistons below the bass Pedal staff. Further, consider writing indications on some type of adhesive tape or sticky notes. In this case, using different colors for generals and divisionals further differentiate the two. Using sticky notes is useful but has two drawbacks: they can easily come off of the score, and they waste paper since the only part you will need is the adhesive section. Using adhesive tape, such as Post-it Full Adhesive Roll, will allow you to use the entire product. It is available for purchase online and comes in multiple colors.

Regardless of which symbols you use and the method for affixing them, mark them in a way that is intelligible and clear to you.

Indicating Manual Changes

George Dyson, “Nunc Dimittis in D” (London: Stainer & Bell, 1924), mm. 36–38.

In order to clarify shifts from one manual to another, you may use some form of bracket to indicate manual changes. For instance, bracket both the treble and bass staves when you want to move both hands from the Swell to the Great, or use a small bracket before and after a phrase that you choose to play on the Solo or Choir.


Look for articulations like accents, staccatos, and tenuti, and be prepared to adjust registration and/or articulation accordingly. Consider the acoustics of the room where you will be performing, as well. A staccato chord in a dry room will typically need to be held longer than in a reverberant one.

Consider the example below from John Rutter’s “Shepherd’s pipe carol.”1 Here we find several varieties of articulation occurring in a short time span: staccato eighth notes, an accented eighth note, unmarked eighth notes, slurred sixteenth notes, unmarked quarter notes, and two arpeggios. Since this accompaniment was written for piano, we can safely ignore the arpeggios. We should probably adhere to the staccato markings and slurs, however. In a room with little or no reverberation, we may want to play the staccato notes longer than we would in a room with several seconds of reverberation. To mark this in the score, it is helpful to add a tenuto marking (horizontal line) above or below the staccato as a reminder to temper the staccato and not make it quite as short as one would in a live acoustic. Further, the phrasing in the second measure, right hand, can be adjusted based on the acoustics. The marking included here is a reminder to make the break between phrases as short as possible.

Rutter_Shepherds Pipe_mm72-74
John Rutter, “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), mm. 72–74.


The ideas above are those that I have found to be helpful, but likely represent a small portion of how you may choose to prepare your score for successful accompanying. Regardless of which specific ideas you choose to mark visually, make them clear enough that they will be legible in your performance space.

  1. John Rutter, “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), mm. 72–74.