Scores and Editions 101: Classical Formats

Written by Claire on Wednesday, 27 June 2012. Posted in What's New at Middle C , Print Music

Vocal scores, choral scores, solo parts, and more!

Last week's post talked about formats in pop music, so this week I'm moving on to classical music. Here's a quick guide to the different formats you're most likely to encounter when buying classical scores.

Full score

fullThis is the most complete musical format that you can buy. A full score includes all the notes for every instrument or voice part involved in a given piece of music, written out in score order (winds, brass, keyboard/percussion/voices, and finally, strings. All instruments in a section are listed by their range in descending order: piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and so on.) Instruments are frequently listed by their German or Italian names, and often by abbreviations of these foreign names. A basic familiarity with these terms will help immensely when reading a full score. Transposing instruments are shown in their playing keys, which is why you'll see the clarinets, horns, and sax parts written in a totally different key than everyone else.







Study score

studyscoreThese are small versions of the full scores used by conductors. Usually called study scores or pocket scores, they are typically small enough to fit in a purse so you can sneak them into concerts and follow along with the performance. They include all of the instrumental and vocal parts in a piece of music presented in the same order as the full score.










 Choral score

choralThis type of score shows only the choral parts for a piece of music. Typically, it will show cues from the vocal soloists, or brief snippets of what the instruments are playing to give the choral singers and idea of what to listen for before their entrances. Sometimes choral scores will show only the male or female voices, and sometimes they will include a piano reduction of the choral or orchestral parts for rehearsal purposes. You would buy this type of score if you wanted to save money on the full score, or if you were only singing a small choral part in, say, a four hour opera.

Vocal score

vocalVocal scores, as one might expect, are designed for singers. They include all of the vocal solos, ensembles, and choral numbers in a work, complete with a piano reduction of any orchestral accompaniment. The piano part will often have instrument names scatttered throughout to give the performers some idea of what the orchestral accompaniment will sound like in performance. Sometimes lengthy instrumental sections are abridged or left out, and sometimes they are written out as a piano solo. Vocal scores are typically more expensive than choral scores, but they are easier to follow, and far more complete. 

Solo instrument/voice


soloinstrumentalThese scores show only a single instrumental or vocal line. Sometimes this is just one of a set of parts that make up a complete performance, but sometimes a solo instrument is all there is. This example shows the solo clarinet part from the Mozart clarinet concerto. The score marks where the soloist plays alone, and where he or she plays along with the rest of the orchestra. In this case, a person learning this piece would buy it with a piano reduction of the accompaniment.

Instrument with piano

instrumentpianoThis type of score shows the both the solo line and the piano accompaniment or a piano reduction of an orchestral accompaniment. The instrumental part is generally a separate book that is inserted into the piano part. That way, the soloist can have their part on a music stand while the accompanist keeps the score at the piano. This is why it sometimes looks like you're getting two books when you buy a piece of instrumental music!

About the Author


claireClaire worked at Middle C Music from 2005-2012. A singer by training, Claire was the mastermind behind our print music operation. She should have been born in the 16th century. She now lives in Chicago, where she continues to be both a musician and an atiquarian.