The UIC in Action

This is the third of a series of articles on the challenges faced by the global music publishing industry for a shift from print to digital.

With a long history of designing and building software-based distribution systems for musical parts I have a great understanding of the inherent complexity of the process.

Why is it complex? Let me give you an example. A standard set of performance material for Beethoven’s 5th symphony would consist of around 22 different parts which must be distributed to the 40-60 players of the orchestra. Multiple copies of some parts are required (for the violins, viola and cellos/basses), and some parts may require more than 1 instrument to play them (a flute doubling a piccolo for example). Each part is integral to the performance set – if any were missing, then the entire set would be unusable.

While the score and the set of parts as a whole may have a designated catalogue number (either an ISBN or ISMN), it is rare for the individual parts to be assigned a unique identifier which makes tracking them difficult.  There is also no way to tell which part is which without reading the publisher-assigned textual description on the front which may be in English, French, German, Italian or in fact ANY language. The terms piano, pianoforte, klavier, grand piano, clavier, Фортепиа́но, 鋼琴, p, po, pno, pf, pft, clav, klv, or klav all represent the same instrument and there is no “rule” that compels the use of one term or another.

These differences can be very confusing – even for professionals: do you know if “Tromba” is Italian for trumpet or trombone?  (it is for trumpet).

This confusion of labels extends to those abbreviated orchestral listings used to represent a large amount of instruments succinctly, like this for Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring from the Boosey & Hawkes website:


Abbreviated orchestrations can require a music degree to decipher because there is no publisher standard.  Any examination of the instrumentation lists found in Zinfonia will show that EVERY publisher has their own way of doing things.

Without a standard, there is also no possibility of doing any sort of meaningful searches or classification of instrumental parts because there is no consistency in the information available.

While designing the emREADER project, I faced a similar problem while trying to work out how to make sure that a piccolo player would automatically (and always) receive a piccolo part. Rather than depending on what label the publisher provided, I decided we need a classification system to identify the musical part which is not based on any cultural or historical practice – and the Universal Instrumentation Code (or UIC) was born.

The UIC is essentially just a number that identifies the musical instrument (or instruments) that are required to play the musical part. The UIC has been created to provide a lot more information than just a numeric identity – it provides possibilities to display, search and share information in ways that have not previously been possible. As a foundation of the emREADER distribution system, the UIC will also become an important resource for Zinfonia and HLMSW as well.

A paper that puts the UIC in its historical context with a complete technical description has recently been published in the journal Music Reference Services Quarterly (Volume 17, Issue 1, 2014).

The “Universal Instrumentation Code”: Bringing Consistency to Orchestral Instrumentation Information by Mark Carroll, Peter Grimshaw and James Koehne

For anyone interested in using or developing projects based on the UIC that does not have access to this resource, please contact BTMI for details how to obtain a copy.

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