Tool #25: Rehearsal Letters or Rehearsal Numbers?

Firstly, let’s agree that if you are writing anything medium-short length or longer and for more than one performer, you should include some form of rehearsal markings in addition to clear, visible measure numbers (I prefer to put the measure number font to 14 to 18 Arno Pro with no italics, and make the ranges visible on multimeasure rests, while adjusting the spacing (horizontal and vertical) to avoid collisions with clefs and staves).

Why are rehearsal marks important?

  1. They give clear, universal starting points for rehearsing no matter how the parts differ between each performer (and the score).
  2. They can define sections and indicate structural changes in the piece, which benefits musicality and gives a sense of focus to certain sections of music in rehearsal.
  3. They help performers and conductors plan and run rehearsals efficiently for maximum focus on musicality and minimal focus on correcting confusion.

And, in my experience with later versions of Finale (I’m on 2010), all you have to do is hold M and click the measure for the mark (on a Mac at least).  You can even customize the font, the enclosure, the positioning, and many other features.  Some composers/engravers also put shadows on them to make them stand out (I haven’t researched how to do that yet).

So, there are three main types of rehearsal marks: Rehearsal Numbers, Rehearsal Letters, and Enlarged/Special Measure Numbers.  I believe that measure numbers should be clear and frequent, so I discount the enlarged/special measure numbers in this instance.

The pros of Rehearsal Numbers:

  1. Clear and effective (like they should be).
  2. Easy to say/pronounce with minimal confusion (imagine a conductor shouting a number to the percussionists in the back of the rehearsal space).

The cons of Rehearsal Numbers:

  1. They are easy to confuse with measure numbers and enlarged/special measure numbers, both on the page and when spoken.  (Is the conductor talking about rehearsal number 12 or measure 12?)

The pros of Rehearsal Letters:

  1. Clear and effective (like they should be).
  2. Easy to say/pronounce with optional clarification (if someone isn’t sure if you said E or G you can clarify with E for Elephant and G for George or something like those).
  3. They don’t get confused with measure numbers and enlarged/special measure numbers.

Th cons of Rehearsal Letters:

  1. Pronunciation varies between conductors and has the potential to be confusing if not clarified.

All in all, I think rehearsal letters are superior and should be used, and rehearsal numbers shouldn’t be used.  This is because rehearsal numbers often get confused with measure numbers, and having to differentiate between “rehearsal” and “measure” numbers takes up time and causes confusion (even though it just adds one word to a rehearsal sentence, that sentence will be repeated multitudinously throughout the rehearsal). In addition, despite the possibilities of personal accents and mispronunciations, rehearsal letters are easy to clarify because they can be parts of unique words.

So, always make your markings clear and big, and I advise you to use letters over numbers when creating rehearsal marks.

Thanks for reading!


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