When it comes to publishing sheet music, “to err is human; to correct divine.” A first edition of sheet music can contain errors such as wrong notes, wrong clefs, incorrect rhythms, bars with incorrect numbers of beats, articulation problems or difficult page turns…the possibilities for trouble are endless. When scores and parts contain thousands or more elements, it is almost inevitable that errors will exist.
Errors can get introduced at any step of the process from the composer’s brain to the printed page…
- Composition step – the composer may have had sloppy handwriting or written in some wrong notes by mistake, missed rests, added extra rests or had clef issues. If the composer uses notation software, this reduces but doesn’t eliminate the error potential.
- Arranging step (if there is one) – arrangements and transcriptions can easily introduce new errors such as missing accidentals, wrong notes, etc.
- Engraving/Copyist step – he/she can misinterpret what is received or introduce errors in a variety of ways.
- Printing step – Error prone as well. For example, the print shop may start a part on a right page that was intended for a left page start, thereby creating a bad page turn.
How do errors get detected?
For many years now, sheet music has been computer notated with the ability for the person inputting the notes to listen to what has been entered. I encourage publishers to use the playback capability in their notation software to find mistakes…in tonal music at least where mistakes are relatively easy to discern. Art of Sound Music has certainly found mistakes this way that we would not have found otherwise.
Players, groups and conductors are pretty good at finding mistakes in printed music. Luckily most are found at rehearsals, but some only at the performances, especially when rehearsal time is minimal.
Despite all of the opportunities to find and eliminate errors before they get to paying customers, errors do get onto the final sheet music…and quite a number of them. I queried my friends on the Sibelius music notation program chat board and they offered plenty of examples (publisher names removed to protect the guilty)!
- Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier (Prelude in C, Book 1) – extra measure
- L’après-midi d’un faune – Wrong key signatures for transposing instruments, missing rests, extra rests and many more
- Vivaldi’s ‘Beatus Vir’ – Final C major chord has an A in the violins
- Vivaldi Gloria ‘Et in terra pax’ movement – Tenors have a G in a B minor chord
- Handel’s Messiah (Mozart’s parts) – Clarinet in A written at concert pitch for a few bars
- And many more!
The problem is so widespread that a book was written on the topic by Norman Del Mar called Orchestral Variations.
How do publishers learn about errors in their editions?
Sometimes publishers are notified by their customers about mistakes. For example, I play in a brass quintet and we recently played an arrangement published in the 1980s. I found a wrong note in the trombone part and contacted the publisher by email. The publisher responded that the wrong note was present in the source material and engraved faithfully. NO ONE HAD EVER CONTACTED THEM about the mistake despite the arrangement being very popular and the error there for decades!
Some of the reasons that players may not communicate errors back to the publisher
- It takes time and effort that people may not be willing or able to give
- They don’t know who the publisher is
- It is not clear how to reach the publisher or the right person working there
How do publishers handle the errors reported to them?
While many publishers produce revised and corrected editions to address found errors, some don’t and the errors persist as the music is sold and distributed for decades or even longer. Such mistakes become part of musician folklore. In general:
- Some publishers don’t fix mistakes because they don’t know about them.
- Others choose not to fix them.
- Others may go out of business
- Some simply don’t have the time or resources to make the corrections, so even new customers get the old mistakes
- In some cases the original scores are lost and can’t be easily updated.
- Some publishers do very large print runs and don’t want to throw away that investment, so they keep selling the printouts that have mistakes.
How do publishers notify existing customers about reported errors and fixes?
Most publishers are unable to contact their customers because they sell through distributors and don’t know who their actual customers are! A handful of publishers and composers maintain “errata lists” on their websites for some works they publish, but this requires the customer to proactively go to the publisher website. Independent entities will also maintain errata lists but these options are not all public, convenient or known by most people that could use the information. For example, the errata lists in the OMEC (Orchestra Music Errata Catalog) are only available on the private section of the MOLA site to MOLA librarians.
How does Art of Sound Music avoid the pitfalls described above?
- There are no large print runs. When we make a fix, the very next customer to buy that piece from us (either hard copy or PDF) gets the corrected music.
- We have all the original notation files (or can quickly get to them) such that reported errors are fixed on a timely basis. We place a very high priority on addressing known errors and do it quickly.
- Most of the people playing our publications buy directly from us, so we know how to reach them and vice versa. Customers that bought a certain piece get an email from us with a list of all corrections, and if they bought the PDF version, they get a brand new PDF by email with all of the fixes incorporated. This process works like self-updating software such as Apple iTunes, but applied to sheet music.
- Our website address appears on the bottom right corner of every piece we publish and on the sheet music cover. Customers can easily contact us via email about any problems they find.
- We give customers an incentive to report errors (besides feeling like a good Samaritan). They get a 10% discount off sheet music on their next order.
As you can see, the ability to get correct and corrected sheet music varies on the publisher and their business practices. Publishers like Art of Sound Music have a direct relationship with their customers and do everything possible to provide trouble free, accurate sheet music before AND AFTER your purchase.