Abstract The present paper establishes formulas for the description of momentum-loss spectra for high-energy scattering of hadrons on nuclei. A very simple calculation of macroscopic multiple scattering on an extended hydrogen target introduces the reader to the basic picture of the momentum-loss spectra. This picture is then extended to include the Glauber formalism in the region of four-momentum transfer squared q 2 where one is well outside the diffraction region. This means that validity of the picture can only be expected when elastic scattering can be neglected. One also assumes that the nuclear mass A is so large that recoil effects can be neglected. First the momentum-loss spectra are computed in the usual approximations: saddle-point integrations, product wave functions, exponentiation of factors, close to one, etc. Next the saddle-point integrations are replaced by more correct procedures, the effects of the Pauli principle are examined and as the last point hard-core correlations are considered in a very rough approximation. Finally a summary is given of the most important sources of errors in the interpretation.