The Printed Score as a Mediator of Musical Meaning Approaches to Music Notation in Western tonal music

Cecilia Hultberg

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


Abstract Centering on notation is a characteristic of Western tonal music. The printed scores are expected to provide the necessary information on musical expression.

In this study, strategically selected contemporary musicians’ ways of under-standing the printed scores are investigated. All participants are thoroughly familiar with musical practice in Western tonal tradition. The intention is to describe their ways of using music notation in order to comprehend musical meaning. Conclusions on functions of the printed scores are drawn through exploration of how the musicians cope with these.

The participants performed well-prepared interpretations of freely chosen, as well as prescribed, unknown tonal pieces of music played by all of them, and commented on how they understood the printed scores. The data were collected through video-recorded performances and explorative interviews including gestures and played examples.

Two main approaches to music notation were found: an EXPLORATIVE and a REPRODUCTIVE APPROACH. In the EXPLORATIVE APPROACH, the function of the printed score is that of an invita- tion to seek out implicit meaning according to the musicians’ individual judgement, within a frame of agreed understanding in Western tonal music that they share with the composer. In the REPRODUCTIVE APPROACH, the function is that of an explicitly normative document prescribing how to play, and through which the performance is to be assessed.

Different senses are coordinated for identifying musical expression in explorative statements. These are based on the musicians’ familiarity with the discourse in music. Visual observations dominate reproductive statements, in which personal experience of musical practice is not regarded.

Strategies of coping with music notation, used on early levels of instrumental education, may strongly influence musicians in the long term. Teaching methods based on a REPRODUCTIVE APPROACH to the printed score may even prevent professional musicians from applying musical understanding later developed.

Based on these results, a theory concerning strategies of using printed scores in instrumental teaching has been developed.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Malmö Academy of Music
  • [unknown], [unknown], Supervisor, External person
Award date2000 Sep 15
ISBN (Print)91-628-4215-3
Publication statusPublished - 2000

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2000-09-15
Time: 10:15
Place: Musikhögskolan i Malmö

External reviewer(s)

Name: Kroksmark, Tomas
Title: [unknown]
Affiliation: [unknown]


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Music


  • notation as a cultural tool
  • music notation
  • music teachers’ education
  • instrumental training
  • apprentice education
  • teaching
  • Western tonal music
  • learning
  • musical literacy
  • agreed
  • Social sciences
  • Samhällsvetenskaper


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