What does a Copyist do?

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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2019
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In general terms, a copyist creates written copies of a document. Copyists have existed in some form since ancient times, and other terms used to describe this profession include scrivener and calligraphus. Since the 20th century, the most prevalent of copyist jobs belong to music copyists. These individuals specialize in making copies of a musical manuscript.

During early centuries and in many parts of the world since, copyists have performed a variety of transcribing duties. The profession plays a particularly important role in areas where illiteracy rates are high, and legal documents also provide plentiful work for copyists in various areas around the globe. Some of the diverse documents copyists may create include work permits, patents, business start-up papers, wills, ballots, legal drafts, and sales purchases. Computer programs are a preferred tool for copyists in the 21st century, but traditional pen, paper, and ruler can also be utilized; most traditional copyists use a special type of pen known as a calligraphy pen. Educational requirements depend upon the specific area of copying, but strong literacy is important overall.


Music copyists constitute the majority of copyist work opportunities, and these individuals regenerate and proofread musical scores and compositions to make sure they are in a neat, presentable form. The copyist takes direction from a composer or arranger. Often, copyists will be called upon to create individual sheets of music for each section of an orchestra or singing group. In such cases, the copyist will provide unique copies specific to the individual sections and that provide entrance cues for the instrumentalists. Composers may also request for a copyist’s assistance in revising music or in creating sheet music from a recording.

Due to some of the above requirements, qualified music copyists should ideally have a higher education background in music and experience in playing musical instruments. Ability to read and understand notation styles, conventions of different genres and instruments, and musical theory are important areas with which a potential copyist should be familiar. Attention to detail and communication abilities are also vital skill sets for a music copyist. The famed composer Beethoven was infamous for his contentious relationship with his copyists due to the employees’ sloppy, mistake-riddled workmanship and personality clashes.

Many advancement opportunities exist for music copyists. Employees may use the profession as an entry-level opportunity for higher-level job titles such as composer or orchestrator. Copyists work as apprentices, interns, or in a full-time capacity for orchestras, television and motion picture studios, recording studios, or many other types of companies where the need exists.


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What about a copyist in terms of visual arts?

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