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Check with the Conductor


Musical notation is meant to be a clear and efficient way of communicating to a performing musician what they ought to play. Most of the time, that’s fine but every now and then you come across something that is ambiguous. An example is in the bass part I have for Concert Prelude by Philip Sparke. You can hear it performed here by the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra:

Concert Prelude

The bass score I was given was a nightmare to read – condensed onto one page and with notes given in two different octaves. In theory, that means I can ignore the ones pitched too low for electric bass; in practice, it just adds to the visual clutter. I’ve been spending some time this afternoon working up a cleaner score so that, if we work on it tonight, I’ve got a fighting chance.

The section I might need to ask about through gives the time signature for part of it as 3/4 | 6/8 (in 3). What is 6/8 in 3? Surely, if you count (1 2) (3 4) (5 6) rather than (1 2 3) (4 5 6) (ie. the normal way of counting 6/8 as compound duple time), you might as well just count 1 & 2 & 3 & … or 3/4. I think the answer is that it veers between the two – some bars have two dotted crotchets, which is typical of a piece in 6/8 while others are clearly beamed for 3/4 (albeit with lots of quavers). What I need to know is how the conductor is thinking of it because, in this case, the score appears to me to fall short on ‘clear and efficient’.

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