My Top Manuscript Paper for Writing Music

Spoiler: My favorites are the Henle Notes (Small or Large) and the Judy Green Music Scorepads.

I love writing music by hand. Any idea that comes to mind can be scribbled without waiting for an app to open or any ungodly tech. Paper doesn’t crash or corrupt your file. Paper even adds intent. My studio and home are littered with music manuscript papers, pens, and pencils. So here are some of my favorites.

My Favorite Music Notation Manuscript Paper

My original favorite was the pocket-sized Moleskine music journal. I learned about these from my professor in college and fell in love with them. The paper was well suited to pencil or pens of various inks. The size was perfect for throwing in my bag or pocket. The hard cover kept it in good condition during those disorderly college years. Moleskine even released a pencil which clipped right on to the cover and fit like a glove. Then, alas, Moleskine put it to pasture. Now those little music journals are living on your Aunt’s farm running free with all your other childhood pets. 

Moleskine makes larger sizes (a large hardcover and x-large softcover) with the same high quality. The large hardcover also has a blank left page for writing notes, comments, or whatever. You can even draw in more staves using the provided music staff ruler.

My biggest problem with the Moleskines is the price. If you write music for a living then you write music… a lot of music. Ideas abound. (Hopefully.) You’ll go through countless sheets jotting down your ideas. Moleskine’s price adds a bit of hesitation before writing. You should never have even a moment’s fear caused by your paper being too nice. That completely defeats the purpose of having anything at all.

Tip: Only buy and use manuscript paper that won’t make you afraid to write on it. Your paper shouldn’t be intimidating.

Another favorite is from Judy Green Music. Judy Green Music has some of the best score pads I’ve encountered. Writing on them is smooth, as if they were designed for my Pentel 0.9 mm pencil with soft lead. These score pads function a little different in my day to day use from the Moleskines or Jotter Notes.

I purchase the 3.5x5 size notepads and keep them in a Dudek pencil & notecard holder on my piano. (Dudek Modern Goods are amazing but make things in small batches so the shop closes up often.) I love these Judy Green Music score pads. Write an idea down on the top sheet then just pull it off and stick it with the others, scan it in later to put in your project folder, or lay on the floor as part of a large group and shuffle them around to get a better look at your music composition as a whole, its form literally at your feet. You can live an animator’s storyboard life with your music cards.

Once the Moleskine pocket-edition was removed I went to looking for a replacement. I tried many options, almost all were terrible. The most common offenses were bindings and poor paper/print quality. A bad binding means a chunk of the page is inaccessible since it won’t lay flat. That’s annoying. Poor print quality usually ends up being a music stave which is too bold and dark, interfering with the legibility of the the music notation. That is a non-starter for me.

One fortunate day on Twitter I saw a picture of the Henle Music Folios “Jotter for Notes”. Unfortunately that name wasn’t what you saw in the photo, you only saw a blue folio with the word “Notes” printed on it. Google and Amazon are not fun when all you have to go on is “blue Notes manuscript paper.” Luckily somebody on Twitter (Dr. Alan Theisen) knew what the full name was and I tracked it down.

I purchased the Notes small and Notes large formats to try. They were amazing!!! They immediately became, hands down, my new favorite way to capture ideas. Their prices are super low, you can buy several and use one (or many) on a single project without breaking the bank. They don’t have a high sheet count but the price makes up for it. And having a low sheet count can work in your favor when you dedicate one book to a project; it’s nice to not have a bunch of empty pages leftover. Their narrow size also bodes well for storage when it’s time to archive them.

My favorite larger format manuscript papers come from Archives in their two 18-stave editions, one spiral bound and one a score pad.

A notable mention I want to include but have not yet used is the Leuchtturm1917 books. Their music book looks like a better version of the Moleskine. They include a neat option at the front to write in an index as you fill the book up which might come in handy. I’m only pointing these out as an option but, I repeat, I have zero working knowledge of the Leuchtturm1917.

Johnny KnittleComment