How to Clean Up Old Music

I don’t know about your music situation, but I have “inherited” a lot of music that has been used for a very long time. Some of the parts aren’t originals and are copies in rather awful condition. Other pieces are covered in people’s writing in pencil, pen, and even highlighter. No musician is going to be happy receiving music that looks like this:

At least, I certainly wouldn’t.

How can you go about cleaning this up? It doesn’t matter how long you spend with an eraser, that’s simply not going to get it all, and you’re more likely to tear the paper than be successful.

The low tech method can involve some scissors and tape. You can combine the acceptable parts of multiple copies to make something that looks acceptable. If I’m going to use this method, I’ll make a copy of the final product and distribute that to my musicians, instead of them getting the taped-together version. Less likely for it to fall apart mid-performance!

The high tech version will give a much more professional looking final product. I will make the best quality scan that I can manage of the original music. From there, I’ll import it into GoodNotes (or some other app that allows handwriting on top of a PDF) as a PDF.

I’ll grab my Apple Pencil, switch it to writing in white, and start manually whiting out anything that I don’t want to be seen in the new copy of the music. Sometimes I’ll clean up some parts with the black pen where the notes are faded or I’ll add measure numbers. If there is a certain cut that our orchestra uses every single time the piece is performed, I might mark that in, too. If it’s something particularly complicated, I might add in a little bit of color.

Between these two methods and the combination of them, I’ve been able to save several pieces of music and prevented us from having to buy new copies. Do you have other methods of saving music that nearly impossible to read? Let me know!