Behind Bars: General Conventions edition published


Listen to the podcast episode

On the Scoring Notes podcast, David MacDonald and Philip Rothman talk with Elaine Gould about her early background and how she came to the profession of music preparation and editing. We uncover the seeds that eventually became Behind Bars, and the decades-long journey from meticulous refinements to its eventual publication and virtually overnight success. Listen now:

Scoring Notes
Behind "Behind Bars" with Elaine Gould


Just in time to add to your summer reading list: Faber Music has published the first section of Elaine Gould’s industry-standard music notation reference book Behind Bars as a separate paperback edition. Behind Bars: General Conventions is now available on its own, in a slimmer format — and price — than its complete counterpart.

At just £25, Behind Bars: General Conventions includes every bit of the first 240 pages of the original edition — Behind Bars: A Definitive Guide to Music Notation — the “general conventions” that devoted fans of the book know well: ground rules; chords, dotted notes and ties; accidentals and key signatures; grace notes, arpeggiated chords, trills, glissandos and vibrato; and meter, tuplets and repeat signs.

Perfect for slipping into a bookbag, bringing to trivia night with your friends, or just carrying around on the metro to show off your music engraving street creds, the paperback edition weighs exactly one pound. As beloved as the 700-page, 3+ lb. original hardcover edition is, it’s been known to send even the most fit music engravers to the chiropractor, so General Conventions is the perfect complement to any reference collection.

Since its publication in 2011, Behind Bars has truly been indispensable in the music preparation field, which desperately needed an authoritative, well-organized, comprehensive reference that was updated for the era of computer-engraved notation. Behind Bars acknowledges the ubiquity of the computer while not being beholden to its technological limitations, and motivates any serious music engraver to find the best solution to any music setting scenario, always reminding us that the ease of reading the music should always supersede what may be the quickest option in a music engraving program.

It all comes down to the stave, and the space, in General Conventions (courtesy Faber Music)

Thanks in large part to Elaine Gould’s book, the software programs have improved in the past dozen years, so that getting the results she advocates for are more easily achieved automatically than when the book was first published. (Sure, we will plug our own Scoring Express templates here, too, which are greatly inspired by the many excellent recommendations in Behind Bars.)

Elaine Gould with the Behind Bars trilogy, including the new General Conventions (courtesy Faber Music)

Although there’s nothing new in General Conventions, it’s attractive as a stand-alone item, if for nothing else than to ease the price point at which budding music preparers can begin learning about the elements of music notation that transcend specific instruments and score layouts. On that latter item, it seems that the third section of the full edition — “Layout and Presentation” — could well be ripe for its own spinoff, too.

For now, though, Behind Bars: General Conventions is a good pickup, and a fitting coda to Elaine Gould’s distinguished tenure as Faber Music’s longtime senior music editor. It’s available at Faber’s shop for £25; Faber has told us that an e-book is scheduled to publish in July, and that it will be widely available in print in the US in the autumn via Alfred Music, Amazon, and other music retailers.


  1. Stephanie

    Hi. I was wondering what topics from the larger Behind Bars book are NOT included in the Behind Bars: General Conventions book? I want to buy one or the other, but the answer to this might determine which I get. Thanks!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Stephanie, that is an excellent question. The sections which are not included are “Idiomatic Notation” (the instrument-specific topics) and “Layout and Presentation” (page formatting, score layout, part preparation, etc.). I suppose I would characterize the “General Conventions” section as defining and exploring the abstract concepts of music notation, and the other two sections as illustrating their practical applications.

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