Sheet Music Stand
The sheet music stand almost always refers to a mobile apparatus used to display sheet music for the benefit of the musician during performances or rehearsals. The three basic parts consist of a base, a column, and a holder to display the sheets of music (any of which may or may not be foldable or collapsible). Sheet music stands come in a wide variety of sizes, strengths, and styles. Choices will be made for artistic reasons, along with the practical needs of the individual musician, including the stand’s ease of mobility. Today, most stands are made from metal or wood; however, it is also possible to find stands made from such materials as plastic, glass, or marble.
While the precise origins of the sheet music stand remain unknown, it may reasonably be inferred that the need became apparent soon after the advent and growth in popularity of written musical notation itself. Clay tablets in Syria have been found dating back to as early as 1,400 B.C. containing what we would call musical scales today. However, the earliest writings confirming the existence and use of the music stand date only to around 200 B.C. They were found in China. Music stands, as we would recognize them today, did not come into popular use until about the 1300’s, at which time German and Swiss composers came to recognize their utility.
When choosing a music stand, learning the terms commonly used by manufacturers and retailers will not only make for smarter shopping, but becoming familiar with the terms may well make some new features more understandable, perhaps features you have never even heard of before. Naturally, this will help you find the stand best suited to your individual needs. Here are some basic terms to watch for:
- The Desk, Music Holder or Bookplate refers to the back of the music stand, which keeps the music from falling backwards off the stand.
- The Lip, Shelf or Ledge prevents the sheet music from falling straight down.
- These two parts together are commonly called the Tray.
The tray may or may not be collapsible and is the most common place to find artistic featuring. One thing to consider about the tray is how much weight you intend it to hold on the music stand. For example, while folding stand trays are more convenient in many ways, in some cases they are not generally designed to hold much weight. So, if you often read music from heavy books, you may need a sturdier tray.
A related consideration to be aware of is the depth of the lip. Smaller trays generally have shorter lips and may be fine if you usually only read single sheets of music. However, you may need a larger tray with a wider lip if you use music books or thick cardboard folders. In addition, also consider the width of the tray itself. Normal sheet music is 8 ½ inches wide, so if you want to read 3 or 4 pages of music at a time without turning, or if you have larger than normal sheet music paper; then you should make sure your tray is wide enough.
Finally, one of the most important features of a tray is its ability to tilt. Virtually every kind of music stand tray has the ability, but the mechanisms used vary widely in terms of ease of use. Some trays require two hands and a bit of force to tilt them, while others can be tilted with ease by only using one hand.
- The column that connects the tray to the base is called the Shaft.
Usually, it will involve inner and outer tubes that slide up and down to adjust height. The full extension of the shaft (the top height of the stand) will vary among stands so it may be a consideration based on the height of the musician and the intended use. For instance, marching band members may want to practice with their horns at the proper performance angles. This may require a stand with a higher-than-average extendable shaft.
When comparing the heights of different models, make sure to notice whether the measurement given is from the top of the tray to the floor, or if it is from the lip to the floor. Obviously, those would be very different numbers. If a certain model is unclear about this, and it is an issue of concern, then it may be worth the time to ask for further information from the seller.
Another issue to be aware of concerning the shaft involves the ease by which the height of the stand may be adjusted. As with the tray, some models require two hands and some force in order to adjust the height, while others can be easily adjusted with one hand.
- A term you might see referred to when sellers are discussing height adjustability is the “Clutch” mechanism they use. The clutch mechanism is simply the part that, when engaged/disengaged, allows the stand to adjust and then stay at the height intended.
Super Strong and Super Stable
Some clutches are internal and require no action by the musician, while others are external and require the musician to engage them by methods including flipping a switch, using a trigger, turning a knob, or sometimes squeezing. (Technically, the term “clutch” could also apply to the tilting of the tray, but most often it refers to the shaft and the principles are similar.) There have been several innovations in recent years concerning the clutch mechanism and if the ease of adjusting the height of the stand is important to you it might be a good idea to watch for those details.
In evaluating different music stands for their clutch mechanisms you must be careful, however, to also consider strength. Typically, stands with basic internal clutches are able to hold upwards of about seven pounds or sometimes a little more. Non-folding stands with externally operated clutches, however, can usually hold much more weight (sometimes 75-100 pounds) and are sturdier. Many ads for music stands will state the weight the stand is designed to hold, but if not, you might want to ask for further information. Finally, be aware that clutches in some older stands are no longer able to hold weight and will sink to the lowest level. So, if you are considering buying a stand of similar construction it might be wise to inquire as to the life expectancy of the clutch as well.
- The third major part of a sheet music stand is the Base. The two major types are a fixed base, and a Tripod (or collapsible) base.
A typical fixed based stand is metal, with the base and the bottom of the shaft being attached through steel welding. While this type of stand almost always has three legs, it is not considered to be of a tripod design. A sheet music stand with a tripod base has the top of the legs connected part way up the shaft instead of at the bottom. It is also often adjustable so the legs can be closer or farther apart (sometimes for space considerations), and collapsible for ease of transport.
|Manhasset Music Stand Storage Cart (Holds 25)|
Advantages to the fixed base stands include that there are fewer parts to wear out and they are particularly useful for bands and orchestras as a large number of them can be easily transported at once on rolling carts. Advantages to the tripod design include its adjustability for space and the convenience of being able to fold it up for personal transport.
Those are the basic parts a sheet music stand buyer should be familiar with before making a purchase. However, there are a couple of other terms you should know to fully understand the big picture. Accordingly, you should know the difference between “Folding”, “Collapsible”, and “Portable”. While every musician knows that most music stands are easily transportable simply by picking them up, there are important differences as to how small some models may become for even easier transport.
- If a sheet music stand is described as being “folding”, you may assume that the tray is not one solid piece, but rather a number of attached separate pieces, (often forming a 6-point hinged system), and designed to fold down into a much smaller space. The legs will normally be of a tripod design and will fold up around the shaft when being transported. When a true folding stand is fully broken down for transport, all the pieces should be able to fit into something less than about 2 feet long and a few inches around. The folding stand is the smallest and easiest stand to transport.
- If a music stand is described as being “portable”, the idea is that of a hybrid. The legs will normally be of a tripod design and fold easily, but the tray may remain a single solid piece. So, if the tray does not fold, then this type of stand will be easier to transport than a fixed base stand, but not as easy as with a folding stand. However, the tray will almost certainly be bigger and sturdier than that of a folding stand. This hybrid idea has worked well for many musicians.
- Finally, the word “collapsible” is frequently used in an ad for a sheet music stand and you should be careful about how it is being used. “Collapsible” can refer to either an entire stand, or to only part of it. A tray may be collapsible by itself, and so also may be the base. So, if it appears that both the tray and the base are collapsible then you can feel confident that the item is a genuine fully folding stand. However, if for example an ad only describes a collapsible base, then you should check further to see if the tray is also collapsible. It may not be, and thus be a portable stand as described above. It’s not a matter of one being better than the other, it’s just being sure of what you’re getting.
Now that the basic fundamentals of sheet music stand construction have been covered, a further word about recent design innovations should be mentioned. It would be easy for you to make a mental picture of a basic music stand and believe that the design and functions have been pretty much the same for decades. While this may be somewhat true with some models that still sell well, by no means is that the whole story. For example, as mentioned there have been certain advances in clutch mechanisms that make adjusting the stands easier. These advances also include extending the life of the clutch and enabling the stand to bear more weight.
In addition, as with other mechanical devices, advances in design are allowing the sheet music stand to fold down to smaller and smaller sizes. For example, the patent drawing at left is from a patent issued as recently as 2004. It is for a wooden folding sheet music stand that allows the tray to fold down to an extremely compact size. In addition, this design boasts a new tray tilting mechanism that gives extra strength to the tray.
There are still further innovations that have introduced entirely new modes of presentation. One example is the digital music stand. Some of these come in the forms of software for standard computers or Kindle Readers. Other products include free standing digital music stands with many new and exciting features.
Overall, it is fair to say that sheet music stand manufacturers have done a good job in continuing to innovate with regard to design and functionality, as well as develop brand new products in the digital age. There are more choices now than ever before, and the perspective buyer is in an excellent position to find a stand that meets virtually all of his or her needs.
The featured stands near the top of this article (on right) include examples of the Manhasset stand, a folding stand, and a portable music stand. The Manhasset 48C has all the quality of Manhasset’s more expensive Symphony stand, but is designed more for musicians who will be playing in a seated position most of the time. This stand has an adjustable height of 16" to 28" (lip to floor), with a maximum overall height of 40-1/2".
The Strukture Deluxe Aluminum stand is manufactured from heavy duty aluminum and designed to be as light as possible while still maintaining high strength and durability. This folding stand has a sturdy tripod base and a special locking adjustable tray for fast and easy adjustment. For a more modern look, this stand is covered with a brilliant, high gloss finish. And as a bonus, each stand comes with its own carrying bag for protection.
Peak makes a solid portable music stand that is also affordable. The shaft features strong, tubular steel and the base is nylon tension-fitting with positive leg-lock feature. The desk partially folds down for easy travel and the whole stand only weighs five pounds. The Peak portable has an adjustable height of 21-48 inches and also comes with its own carrying case.