DJA’s Notes: Group instruments correctly


Editor’s note: DJA’s Notes is a series inspired by Darcy James Argue‘s Facebook posts, which offer some quick, basic steps to improve the appearance of notated music, especially from a jazz/big band perspective. Here at Scoring Notes, we’ve replicated the content of Darcy’s posts and have added instructions for how to achieve the desired result in the major commercial desktop notation programs.


It’s that time of year again, wherein I urge young jazz composers submitting scores to competitions to take a few simple steps to ensure that their work meets some very basic standards of professionalism.

These standards may be unknown unknowns to many of you — i.e., you don’t know that you don’t know them. Or you may be aware of them, but are unconvinced that they matter.

So hello! Is it me you’re looking for? I am someone who gets asked to evaluate your submissions on a fairly regular basis! And I promise you it actually does matter to me. Anyone looking at these submissions has to look at a lot of them, so first impressions are kinda important.

And yes, ultimately I am doing my best to judge your work on the quality of the music, rather than the quality of the music preparation. But I will tell you, it is much easier to focus on the music when poor music prep isn’t distracting me from the content of your ideas.

Composing music is what you say you want to do professionally, so you really owe it to yourself to take a moment to look at some high-quality professionally engraved, edited, and published scores to see what they look like and learn what the conventions are. This also lets the person looking at your submission know that you have, you know, studied a big band chart or two before trying to write one.

Here’s one fundamental issue, which I see in the vast majority of submissions: Do not draw barlines from lead trumpet through bass trombone. The jazz big band has FOUR sections. Trombones get their own group barline, separate from trumpets. Anyone conducting your score needs to be able to see lead trombone at a glance.

This is easy to fix, y’all. You should fix it.

Cheers, and best,



In Tools > Staff, first delete any unwanted sub-brackets (and sub-groups) by right-clicking (or Control-click on Mac) on the group’s handle (either at the top or bottom of the bracket), and select Delete Group.

Then, for any brackets (groups) that need adjusting — in this case, we want to take the group that encompasses all the brass and make it only apply to trumpet — right-click (or Control-click on Mac) on the group’s handle and select Edit Group Attributes… (this is also found in the Staff menu).

Change the Top Staff and Bottom Staff to the appropriate instruments and then click OK to make the change.

To add a new group — in this case, to the Trombones — select all the staff handles for the trombones. Right-click (or Control-click on Mac) any one of them and select Add Group and Bracket… (this is also found in the Staff menu).

In Bracket Options, choose the appropriate bracket style. Important: Be sure that All Measures is selected, and that Draw Barlines is set to Through Staves.

Click OK to make the change.


If a sub-bracket exists, click it and press Delete.

Click the bottom of the brass bracket and drag it upwards until in only encompasses the trumpets. Do the same for the barline joins.

To add a bracket to the trombones, select all the trombones, and then click Bracket (in Notations > Bracket or Brace.) Drag the barline so that it joins all of the trombones.


In Engrave mode > Engraving Options > Brackets and Braces > Approach:

  • In Ensemble type, chose Big Band
  • In Instruments of the same kind within a bracketed group, choose No secondary brackets.

Click Apply.


  1. Waldbaer

    Thanks for this interesting post. It shows a more or less simple thing, but helps efficiently and on the way compares the scoring apps considering this problem as the example. I’d appreciate to see more like this one, no matter if Big Band or other music!

  2. Bob Zawalich

    Very nice. I think that showing how to do the operations in the different notation products is a great addition to the original post.

    Dorico does a very nice job with this sort of thing. I am impressed with how well many previously awkward processes have been streamlined by the Doricoers.

  3. Dave

    Gracias por el aporte, siempre aprendiendo cosas nuevas con uds…

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