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Music appeals to the sense of hearing like nothing else in the world does. However, much like any other work of art, it starts as a text. This text, which includes music notation in the form of modern musical symbols, is called sheet music, also known as a score. Sheet music is useful both as a means of recording a piece of music, and as a guide to perform it. Even though the ability to read and write sheet music is not a requisite per se to actually compose it, it is so in order to put it on paper. Therefore, a musician who can produce music without the ability to comprehend musical notation, would still need an amanuensis to write down the notes.

There are several different types of musical scores, each with characteristics of its own. A full score shows the music of all instruments and voices in a composition lined up in order. A miniature score is similar, only a lot smaller. A study score may include comments along with the music for learning purposes. A piano score is a sort of literal transcription for piano of a piece intended for several performing parts. A vocal score reduces the full score of a vocal work down to its vocal parts (solo and choral). A short score reduces a work for many instruments to only a few staves. Others types of score include lead sheets and chord charts. A special kind of score is the tablature, shortened to tab, which indicates instrument fingering instead of musical pitch.

The musical symbols used for sheet music notation are also of a varied nature. They include lines (staff, ledger lines, bar line, double bar line, bold double bar line, dotted bar line and accolade), clefs (G or treble clef, C or alto clef, F or bass clef, neutral clef and octave clef), breaks (break marks and caesura), accidentals (flat, sharp, natural, double flat and double sharp), key signatures (flat key signatures and sharp key signatures), time signatures (specific time, common time, alla breve and metronome mark), dynamics (pianississimo, pianissimo, piano, mezzo piano, mezzo forte, forte, fortissimo, fortississimo, sforzando, crescendo and diminuendo), articulation marks (staccato, staccatissimo, marcato, tenuto, martellato, left hand pizzicato, snap pizzicato, natural harmonic, fermata, sull'arco, and glu'arco), ornaments (trill, mordent, turn, appoggiatura and acciaccatura), octaves (ottava alta, ottava bassa, quindicesima alta and quindicesima bassa), among many others such as repetitions and codas.