I have an ancient copy of Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols. I first started learning the piece when I was eleven years old, and my copy has some pretty funny markings. All over the pages I have reminders to keep my elbows up and raise. My pedal markings are comically sloppy. I don’t perform from this part anymore, but I keep it as a lesson in how NOT to mark a harp part.
Over the years I have learned exactly how important it is to have good markings, especially pedal or lever markings. Why is this so important? Because when your markings are done well, they help you play with accuracy, practice efficiently, and revisit old pieces more easily. These markings are every bit as important as the notes on the page.
And I believe that good markings have four important characteristics, which I call the four C’s: markings must be Clear, Correct, Complete and Consistent.
So how do you mark your music according to the four C’s?
Markings must be clear.
They must be written neatly and legibly. You don’t need to waste any energy deciphering your markings. You, or anyone else for that matter, should be able to read them easily. If you need to make a marking quickly, for instance in a lesson or rehearsal, make the marking lightly, then go back later when you have more time and write it clearly and neatly.
Markings must be correct.
When it comes to pedal marking, “correct” means the RIGHT PEDAL at the RIGHT TIME. Rhythmic accuracy is vital with pedals, and levers too. If you write them where you need to perform them (just the way notes are written!), they will become part of the physical habit you are developing in your practice. Correct rhythmic placement will also help you eliminate buzzes and other unseemly noise. Be certain that your pedals are written exactly where you want to push them.
Markings must be complete.
You should mark in all your changes or none of them. In some pieces, you will find that some of the pedals have been marked and others omitted. Apparently, the editor believes you will respond to an accidental shown in the music by pushing the correct pedal, and so only indicates pedals that require moving when there is no accidental shown or in special circumstances like glissandos or enharmonics.
I think that practice will be more efficient, and therefore performance will be more accurate, if you have all the markings you need and leave nothing to chance. This is not to say that we shouldn’t learn to read and respond to accidentals in the music without markings to improve our sightreading, but practice will be better served with complete markings in your music.
Markings must be consistent.
Develop a system for marking and use that system every time. With pedals, this means always marking your pedals the same way, either right foot above left foot or left above right. Whichever system you use will probably depend on what your teacher uses; I don’t believe that one way is inherently better than the other. But writing them the same way every time will help you read them more quickly and respond to them more automatically.
Levers can be more difficult to mark well, and lever markings are fairly inconsistent in printed editions. Some music indicates the switch with a note and accidental; other times you will see a letter name with an octave indication (F#III). In my opinion, the clearest way is to write the note and its accidental in the music at the precise moment you need to flip the lever. You may use whatever is clearest for you, as long as you are consistent.
And lastly, remember to use pencil. You might want to change your mind someday!
Do you have any tips for pedal or lever markings?