Preparing Parts: the Importance of Page Turns

You have meticulously finished writing the music, booked the performance, contracted the musicians and scheduled the rehearsals. All that remains is to print the parts. What could go wrong?

Thanks to modern music notation software, parts preparation has become less time-consuming and fairly automatic, but sometimes the page turns just do not work as intended. The following are several suggestions to ensure that the musicians playing your music can concentrate on the performance without being distracted by awkward page turns.

Page Formatting

The ideal parts are those in which the pages can be turned like a book or a magazine rather than folded out. Since the page layout should provide adequate time for the player to turn the page, consideration must be given to the tempo of the music, any mute changes and in the case of doubles, sufficient time for the player to change instruments without having to also turn a page. 

Ideally, the last line of a page should be a multi-rest. If this is not possible, the first line of the following page should have a multi-rest. In this case, I have found it useful to include the “Bad Page Break Warning Symbol” at the bottom of the page to be turned. 

*Example 1 illustrates the placement of the warning.

Cover Pages 

There are two reasons to use Cover Pages on parts: to eliminate awkward page turns by having the music begin on page two, and/or to provide special instructions for the player to perform the music. 

The cover page should include the title of the composition, the composer’s name and the instrument name. If the performer is required to double on other instruments, those instruments should also be listed on the cover. 

*Example 2A illustrates how a cover page created a page turn at the bottom of page 3.

*Example 2B illustrates a drum part with special instructions to the player.

Another way to eliminate an awkward page-turn may be to insert a blank page at an appropriate point in the part, although a cover page should be sufficient to address any page turn issues. 

Paper Size 

The standard number of lines on an 8.5 x 11-inch page is typically nine, although sometimes ten lines can be fit onto a page. If these additional lines still do not provide convenient page turns, another solution is to use legal-sized (8.5 x 14 inches) paper, which can easily accommodate between twelve and thirteen lines per page. In my experience, this alternative usually works best with rhythm section parts, especially for piano and bass. 

*Example 3 illustrates how the additional lines place the multi-rests at the bottom of page 1 to allow adequate time for the page turn.

Special Considerations 

Sometimes, none of the aforementioned page turn solutions will work. Here are alternatives to provide the performer with a convenient page turn without compromising the performance.

Guitar and Bass:

A page turn can be forced at a point in which the performer can use open strings (i.e., E-A-D-G-B-E on guitar and E-A-D-G on bass), preferably while comping or walking to chord changes, not during a notated line.

In *Example 4, the page turn occurs at the end of measure 68, allowing the performer six beats to turn the page and to continue playing since the chords are A7-D7-G7. All six beats can be played on open strings while the page is turned.


Like the guitar and bass page turn suggested above, page turns can be placed while comping rather than during a notated line. If necessary, they can also occur during a one-handed passage. (*See Examples 5 & 6)


Drum parts typically have the least breaks and multi-rests to accommodate page turns and usually should occur when the drummer is playing time without any ensemble kicks. Never place a page turn during a change from brushes to sticks or mallets. (*See Example 7)

Saxophones and Clarinets:

Depending on the tempo and other technical requirements, page turns can be inserted during passages that only require one-hand fingerings to perform. For the Clarinet, these would include middle C-C#-D and E-F-F#- G-Ab-A-Bb. 

On Saxophone, G-C# in the middle of staff are played with one hand, although Bb has two different fingers and only one of them is with one hand; G2 to F3 can also be played with one hand, although Bb2, E3 and F3 have alternate fingerings that require two hands. When in doubt, consult with a saxophonist.

*Example 8 illustrates an easy page turn solution while playing a one-hand passage.


Trumpet players can generally make a page turn with their left hand while still playing the part, although, in my experience, it is best to insert the page turn during a sustained section rather than one that is rhythmically active. As with the drum and woodwind parts, page turns should never be placed simultaneously with a mute or instrument change. 

Final Thoughts 

Remember that your parts should easily convey your musical intentions to allow the players to perform your music at their highest professional level. When in doubt, ask players you respect their opinion.


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