A music copyist is a person who reproduces and prints out musical notes of songs and instrumental arrangements onto paper for composers. The transcription process is also commonly referred to as score preparation. Music copyists will generally be given a musical score, an arrangement that contains the notes for multiple instruments, which they separate and copy onto individual sheets for all the various instrument players.
Traditional musical scores were put together by a composer who created a copy of the musical notes by hand on paper with horizontal lines. A music copyist would review the original musical score, then draw the notes by hand and make as many copies of the score as needed. This process was generally meticulous and required copyists to be artistic, as well as have musical knowledge. In the nineteenth century, copyists began to use typewriters formatted with musical notes, rather than letters and numbers, to recreate musical scores and lessen the preparation time.
Beginning in the late twentieth century, computer programs for music copyists began to be produced. These programs, also known as score writers, significantly decreased the amount of time it took for a music copyist to transcribe scores. Although the exact functions of score writers depend on the specific program, they generally function similar to word processing software but with musical notes instead of other characters.
A music copyist will typically work for individual aspiring musicians who want their original scores reproduced in order to give to band members or simply for safekeeping; however, this work is often done on a freelance or contract basis, rather than full time. He or she may work full time for record companies to copy arrangements for established musicians. Copyists may also be able to find steady employment with production studios who supply musical scores for film or television.
The work environment for music copyists tends to be more individual-based instead of team projects. Even with the use of score writer programs, the copying process can be tedious and requires a keen eye for detail because any incorrect notes or placements could negatively alter the musical score. People who are most successful as music copyists tend to be introverts who do not mind working alone and can keep within strict time constraints with little supervision. Although the need for artistic ability is not required as much with the use of computer programs, copyists will still often need to have a background in musical theory or composition to fully understand the arrangements and make then as accurate as possible.