There aren't too many professions in the world these days that absolutely require pencils, but we regularly work with a type of customer whose everyday carry must include a really specific pencil: musicians.
Having sang in choirs for much of my life, I'm familiar with the constant need to mark one's sheet music with notes and edits and emphatic instructions from pre-concert crazed directors. It really is a pretty specific use scenario, and one that we've thankfully had a lot of experience answering in the shop, outside of my own personal experience.
Pencil qualities needed:
-Must be erasable! In my experience, sheet music is expensive and photocopying is a major no-no. Thus, your sheet music is often reused or returned if it's not worn. That means you need to hand it back in clean of your own messy notes so the next person can make their own.
-Must be dark! When notating on sheet music, you're usually not writing on a solid surface. Your music will often be in a folder or on a stand or even in your lap, so your pencil needs to be soft and dark enough to make a clear mark without too much pressure. It also needs to be bold enough to be seen clearly at a reasonable distance, because one does not typically perform with their nose in their sheets.
-Must have good point retention! Notes are usually made in small spaces, within the staff or on the margins, so the ability to write small and precise is necessary. Additionally, point retention is a must because god forbid you interrupt rehearsal with the distracting sounds of sharpening.
- BONUS. It is really a huge benefit if your pencil has the ability to stay put somewhere (i.e. a clip!).
Here's what we have discovered to be favorites amongst the music community (and my personal bias included):
Craft Design Technology HB - If you can't get your hands on an Ito-ya (which are terribly tricky to find outside of Japan and often sought after by musicians), these pencils are made by the same manufacturer Camel Pencil Company. They have a dark, smooth quality, but are also firm enough to have excellent point retention. Also, the erasers are simply FANTASTIC. I went an entire choir season with one, and only wanted (not even needed) to sharpen it once for the amount of note taking I had.
Blackwing 602 - Stephen Sondheim famously proclaimed the Eberhard Faber original to be his ultimate favorite pencil, and was lucky enough to stock pile them early on. He's not wrong - it's slick, dark graphite and replaceable eraser make it a perfect choice for musicians. If you don't want to pay upwards of $60.00 for the vintage original, the current iterations of Blackwing, now made by Palomino, are excellent too. I prefer the Volume 530 or Volume 24 editions with extra firm graphite (keep in mind those are limited edition though!), but will use the 602 in a pinch. Really, even the Pearls are a good choice if you want to go extra soft - you'll just want to keep a sharpener handy!
Musgrave or General's Test Scoring - Originally invented for early IBM computers, these pencils are made with artificial graphite that is designed to be extra dark (and electronically sensitive if that's a thing you need). Both hold their points quite well and aren't too smudgy, but I prefer the eraser on the General's one to the Musgrave one (but the Musgrave one is only $0.40!).
Mitsubishi Penmanship 4B or Mono KM-KKS 4B - These pencils are designed for practicing calligraphy through repetitive writing. That means these pencils are extra dark - 4B, to be exact - with extra thick cores. Because they're designed for repetitive writing, they hold their points better than many other soft pencils. These are both also inky smooth and downright impressive looking. The only downside is you may need an eraser cap. May I suggest the Pentel polymer ones?
Edelweiss 3B - This very unassuming-looking gray pencil packs a great punch. The 3B core is excellently smooth and just glides across paper with minimal pressure. The graphite quality in this 3B is also so lovely that it's point retention is really fantastic. Again, this one doesn't come with an eraser, but looks quite chic with a white eraser cap. Also try: Natura 3B, Grafwood 2B or 4B
Once you've picked out your perfect composition companion, you'll also need to add a few things to your arsenal to make sure you're extra-prepared for hasty note-taking. Here are a few recommendations:
Sharpener - I suggest a sharpener that has a reservoir for shavings if you plan on sharpening as you go, just to not worry about disposing of shavings. Dux makes a good option, but you can also find sharpeners like these at most office supply stores. If you only can spare the fuss of sharpening at the beginning of a rehearsal, I'd instead recommend a sharpener that does a crisp long point so you do not need to refresh halfway through. The Masterpiece is a clear winner here - nothing really beats that point (and I like to stash the shavings in the clear plastic case it comes in) - but you could also try the Automatic Long Point or the simple Magnesium Long Point.
Perfect Pencil - I love this as an accessory for any pencil really, not just the pencil it comes with. It allows you to clip a pencil to your folder or stand or shirt and contains a simple but handy sharpener right in the cap. Downside: shavings everywhere (maybe you'll have a spare coffee cup nearby).
Vintage Pencil Clip - I have an ever-growing collection of these because they are SO USEFUL. This is the easiest (and prettiest!) way to make your pencil way more accessible. I slipped one on to my Craft Design Technology HB and managed to keep it clipped to my folder all season long.
Hi-Polymer Eraser Cap - I really like these caps because they don't make a ton of eraser dust and they don't require a lot of pressure. It doesn't hurt that the look nice too.