The Art and Science of Measure Numbering

Above: A prime example of how confusing measure numbering can be

Rob Prester (Pf, New York, NY) opened an E-mail dialog within the ACMP Board and Council members by posing this question: “Does ACMP have any available info about standardized guidelines for measure numbering?”

Board Member Susie Ikeda (Vn, Cambridge, MA) responds: It may seems silly, but consistent measure-numbering is actually a meaningful and not-always-obvious issue, particularly when people show up at a workshop with their own parts numbered using one convention and others show up having used different conventions. (Do pickups count as a bar? How do you count first endings?) Being off by even one bar prohibits the group from being able to start at exactly the most efficient place.

I’m active at the Bennington Chamber Music Conference ( For decades we’ve used a generally successful measure numbering convention that seems to match most pre-printed numbering conventions. Thanks to Eve and Don Cohen we also have a vast listing of measure number totals (by movement), The Cohens meticulously and brilliantly compiled this list, manage, and generously share it. You’ll find the numbering guidelines, and within that you’ll find a link to the measure number totals page by clicking on the link Of course, if one never has to stop, and never has to rehearse anything, then the numbers are indeed pointless!

Advisory Council Member Missy Goldberg (Vn/Va, Chevy Chase, MD) concurs: If you haven’t tried numbering measures, you may not appreciate the value of The Cohen’s reference list of measure number totals. Even if you follow the conventions, it’s very easy to make a mistake — either by missing some subtle oddity of the music or, more likely, by simply miscounting. Knowing the actual number of measures in the movement makes it easy to see if you have counted correctly.

Advisory Council Member Ted Rust (Ob, EH, Berkeley, CA) writes: According to Brian Blood,, bar lines date from the seventeenth century, and rehearsal letters began appearing in orchestral scores and parts in the early 19th century. My own guess is that they were picked up by publishers from conductors’ own markings jotted on manuscripts during rehearsals when they needed to tell their players where to start. He doesn’t say if bar numbers followed soon after.

Letters certainly become less useful and measure numbers more so as compositional style has moved away from the clear, regular divisions of classical and early romantic music and a more detailed navigation system was needed. Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, for example, is hell to rehearse with its rehearsal NUMBERS instead of letters (“Violins, play what you have nineteen bars after eighteen in Part III.” Huh??

My Dover facsimile of an “early” edition of Dvorák’s Serenade for Winds, Opus 44 (1878) has measure numbers AND rehearsal letters whereas his Serenade for Strings, Opus 22 (1875) has neither! (Maybe wind players needed more help, or maybe the practice was just being introduced.) Measure numbering was still not commonplace before the mid-20th century. For example, the Peters Bach editions from the 1930s have rehearsal letters but no measure numbers, whereas Henle editions from the 1970s have numbers only.

I’d love to dig into a good music library !

Advisory Council Member Jerry Fischbach (Vn, Glen Dale, MD) writes: This is indeed an interesting and deceptively complex question. The music publishing industry has certainly been dealing with this question for at least a century. The Bennington numbering rules are outstanding! Models of concision and thoroughness. Just for the record, I explored two of my publishing sources as follows:

Composer/arranger George A. Speckert, an editor at Baerenreiter, (and former student of mine) defines the Baerenreiter conventions

The first full measure is “1” – , do not count upbeats.
The first and second ending brackets are numbered “a” and “b” ( i.e. 16a, 16b.) This will only be printed if the bracket is at the beginning of a line. No special treatment for repeats and jumps — even if the repeat is in the middle of a measure.
In cases where one voice is notated with a repeat and another without (i.e. different phrase endings), both numbers are noted, like 17 (25).

More Articles

A Tribute to Candice Chin (1976 – 2022)

Read More ↗

ACMP member adventures in Ecuador

ACMP members Tom Cappaert and Art Malm returned to Ecuador to pick up a newly commissioned viola, coach with Alejandro Jiménez and donate more instruments to the conservatory in Riobamba.

Read More ↗

A new website and free membership for all 

In celebration of its 75th anniversary, ACMP is returning to its roots by dropping its membership dues. Read all about it, and about some of the new features of this new website (including helpful tips on how to renew your membership and tweak your personal profile.)

Read More ↗

Dutch Treat: ACMP to the Rescue!

Read More ↗

Kronos Quartet “50 for the Future” Online Masterclasses: Saturday, November 12, 2022 and Saturday, April 15, 2023 at 2pm Eastern on Zoom

Read More ↗

2022 Worldwide Play-In: U.S. Highlights

Read More ↗

2022 Susan McIntosh Lloyd Award: The Music Conservatory of Westchester

ACMP honors The Music Conservatory of Westchester with the 2022 Susan McIntosh Lloyd Award for Excellence and Diversity in Chamber Music Education

Read More ↗

Inside Music Academy Book Club Starts July 2, 2022

Read More ↗

2022 Worldwide Play-In: International Highlights

Read More ↗

ACMP and CMA: Partners in chamber music!

Chamber Music America (CMA) and ACMP are finding new ways to support one another in our shared mission of supporting the field of chamber music worldwide.

Read More ↗

ACMP Board Member Marjana Rutkowski receives the title of Emeritus Citizen of Porto Alegre

On March 29, 2022 ACMP's first South American Board Member, Marjana Rutkowski (cellist from Brazil) was named an Emeritus Citizen of Porto Alegre, in recognition of her continuing work for the development of Brazil's culture and society.

Read More ↗

ACMP Honors Kitty Benton with the Helen Rice Award

ACMP honored longtime member and former newsletter editor Kitty Benton with the Helen Rice Award at Broadway Presbyterian Church in New York City on Saturday, May 7, 2022. This special event kicked off the 2022 Worldwide Play-In and ACMP’s 75th Anniversary Festivities, which will continue through December 2022. Photo by John Gurrin.

Read More ↗

Luke Fleming’s online Chamber Music Master Class: Sunday, June 26, 2pm EDT on Zoom

Sunday, June 26 from 2pm to5pm EDT on Zoom (with a 1pm soundcheck).

Read More ↗

ACMP 75th Anniversary Worldwide Play-In Weekend: May 13-15, 2022

Read More ↗

Another flying cellist lands in Ecuador

ACMP members Tom Cappaert (cello) and Art Malm (viola) from Illinois (USA) went on a musical mission to Riobamba, Ecuador, January 4 -13, 2022.

Read More ↗

ACMP Member Home devastated in Colorado Fire

Read More ↗

Kitty Benton and the Return of “The Flying Cellist”

Kitty Benton recently reconnected with "The Flying Cellist," whom she wrote about in an ACMP newsletter in 2013.

Read More ↗

Andrew Appel

Online Early Music Master Class with Andrew Appel

On February 12, 2022 ACMP presented an online Early Music Masterclass with harpsichordist and conductor Andrew Appel of the Four Nations Ensemble. Watch the video on YouTube.

Read More ↗

2021 Susan McIntosh Lloyd Award: The Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music

In August 2021 ACMP honored The Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music with its annual Susan McIntosh Lloyd Award for Excellence and Diversity in Chamber Music Education.

Read More ↗

New Adult Amateur Workshop: Winterhaven at Avaloch Farm

I am happy to announce a brand new adult amateur workshop this Winter in New Hampshire:   Winterhaven January 9 – 15, 2022 Avaloch Farm 16 Hardy Lane Boscawen, New Hampshire 03303 With the Bardin-Niskala Duo and guest violinist/violist Emilie-Anne Gendron   Emilie is the first violinist of my own string . . .

Read More ↗


All Articles By