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Topic: How to study a score?

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  1. #1

    How to study a score?

    This is probably a stupid question, but I saw someone talking about it in another thread, so here it goes:

    When you study a score; what do you actually do? Just read the score while a cd is playing the music, or do you play parts of the score on your piano/keyboard or do you "write" it into your sequencer?

    And what do you do if you're not that good at reading music/scores?


    -Ranietz-

  2. #2

    Re: How to study a score?

    I used to follow a score along with a CD. Lately, though, I find that I'll listen to the CD several times, then if I think it's interesting enough, I'll go out and find the score and look at it without the CD.

    It's interesting how my habits have changed over the years. I find now that having a CD playing while looking at the score can actually be distracting. I like to hear it enough times to get the sound in my head, then I'll look at the score to pick it apart and find out how the sound was created.

    If you're not that good at reading scores, the only thing to do is practice it. It's a skill that needs to be worked on, like any other musical activity. Have fun!
    Dan Powers
    www.danielpowers.info

    "It's easier to be a composer than it is to compose."
    --Ray Luke (1928-2010)

  3. #3
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: How to study a score?

    When you study a score; what do you actually do? Just read the score while a cd is playing the music, or do you play parts of the score on your piano/keyboard or do you "write" it into your sequencer?
    If you are truly trying to create a unique interpretation of a work, the first thing you do is stop listening to the CDs.

    To study a score, first, do some research into the composer, the origin of the piece, any historical information on the piece's significance, etc. Get the surrounding human factors clicking in your brain.

    Then, start learning all the parts horizontally, getting in touch with how each individual part contributes to the whole. Are there major vertical structures? How to the parts contribute to those? Do they stop moving horizontally, or are the vertical structures very integrated into the horizontal motion. Where are the entrances and exits? Are there fermatas, breaks, etc?

    Mark everything up, right on the score. If you are conducting from it, there are several more things you do. You mark all meter and tempo changes in BIG RED LETTERS, so you see them as you're beginning to work the piece.

    Finally, you memorize it. Yes, the whole freaking thing.

    That's pretty much how you study a score. Much like a director studies a script. By the time you've "studied" you should know pretty much every note of every part, and be able to sing a part--or answer a question about it--without looking back at the score. Of course, sometimes you do have to look, but even then, you know the thing so well that you can flip to a single note in a complex part in a flash.

    And what do you do if you're not that good at reading music/scores?
    Ask yourself some hard questions. How much do you love music? Are you willing to learn? Five year olds learn to read music every day, so it's not something that is particularly difficult to do.

    I suggest getting into an ear-training course. That's about the quickest way to start learning to realize what's abstracted in a musical line. If you want to have a personal relationship with a written score, then you need to know how to both read them, and hear them playing in your head just from looking at the page. Otherwise, you'll be forever bound to study other people's interpretations of a work instead of developing your own.

  4. #4

    Re: How to study a score?

    It really depends on what your goal in reviewing the score is.

    If you are reviewing it from a 'how does this music work' point of view, there are lots of ways of approaching it. The main problem is that a score contains a HUGE amount of information, and it's just difficult to review them without getting lost by the scale of the task.

    There are people who claim to be able to look at a page of score and hear it in their head. I have to take them at their word on that. I can't do it, so I need another way of approaching it.

    Personally I'm very rarely interested in every note of a score. It's usually isolated passages of melody, harmony, orchestration or whatever that leap out at me as being interesting, and something I might be able to learn from for my own music.

    What first attracts me to a score is usually hearing the CD and hearing bits of interest that grab my attention. If my ear training is good enough, I won't need the score because I'll be able to work out what's going on anyway. If my ear training isn't up to the job (which is often!), that's when I buy a score. I'll listen to the CD again with the score in hand, and mark up bits of interest as I go through, then go back afterwards and slowly work through the interesting passages one at a time trying to figure out what it is about them that I found interesting (might be melody, rhythm, harmony, orchestration etc. etc., might even be it's relation to something that happened earlier in the score). It might be a single bar that interests me, or a single line by one instrument.

    That's a completely different approach to learning how to pastiche a composer's style. Then you've really got to get into things in much more depth.

    You may be trying to mock up the score........that'll need another approach.

    If you are interested in the composition from a 'notes' point of view, rather than orchestration, a piano reduction of the score is a real timesaver. It is much easier to read.

    Depends on what you want to get out of it really.

    Bruce's response is as always full of much sage advice. The answer to most question that start with 'what do you do if you aren't very good at.....?' is 'work to get good at it'. As with most things, the more you put into something, the more you get out of it.

    Steve

  5. #5

    Re: How to study a score?

    I think there are a thousand different ways to study a score. I know for me that listening to the music on CD first is crucial. Then I'll crack open the score and look at each part individually. Then I look at how that parts fits with another part; then another, then another. Then when I have the score somewhat commited to memory I'll go and hear the piece live if possible.

    It's important to hear the piece live. Seeing the players actually pick up there instruments and play the notes is in my op. very educational. That way I see the trumpet player playing over the french horns. I've learned so much that way.

    Anyway I hope this helps. I've used this method to successfully compose and arrange for and conduct professional orchestras in America and Canada and I've never failed to get compliments from the players on how well I understand the orchestra and what's involved in playing.

    I wish more composers, orchestrators and conductors(yes even conductors?) would spend more time going to concerts and not rely on CD's only.

    Jose

  6. #6

    Re: How to study a score?

    If your aim is to get "inside" the score and figure out what the composer is doing, I reccomend meticulously reducing entire scores to their basic harmony. During the deconstruction process you will become intimately familiar with the methods behind the madness.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranietz
    This is probably a stupid question, but I saw someone talking about it in another thread, so here it goes:
    When you study a score; what do you actually do? Just read the score while a cd is playing the music, or do you play parts of the score on your piano/keyboard or do you "write" it into your sequencer?
    And what do you do if you're not that good at reading music/scores?
    -Ranietz-

  7. #7
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    Thumbs up Re: How to study a score?

    As has been said previously in this thread, it depends what you want out of it. There is virtually an unlimited amount of time you can spend studying scores so you need to break it down. Sometimes I will just look at a score for a particular bit of orchestration, other times I will spend years taking it apart (not full time of course!).

    There is a story I have been told about Canadian composer Violet Archer. She went to study with Bartok when he was in America while he was writing Concerto for Orchestra (one of the greatest works ever written). At their first meeting he was studing a symphony by Haydn. Bartok asked Archer if she new it. Being a young upstart she said yes, of course. Bartok said "that's good, because I have been studying it for 40 years and still I do not know it".

    The point being that there are mountains of information to get out of scores (especially masterpieces). Go deep sometimes, look at melody, harmony, voicing, orchestration, form and you will expand your knowledge exponentially. Someone suggested doing a reduction - that is one of the most excellent ways of studying a score. To do a proper reduction you must understand the intent of the music.

    Anyway, I'm sure you have enough to work on now with everyones suggestions.

    Good luck,

    Christiaan

  8. #8

    Re: How to study a score?

    > Bruce wrote: "If you are truly trying to create a unique interpretation of a work, the first thing you do is stop listening to the CDs."

    So true. My son has a role in his high school production of Le Miserables. The script is just the lines and one staff of melodies. With all of the key and meter changes there was no way he was going to learn the part quickly enough. We picked up the CD, but it was so stylized that he would be learning the performance, rather than the notes. I ended up making the most souless MIDI track that I could for him and his best friend, who is also in the production: piano for the vocal line, triangle and cello block chords for the rhymic and chordal anchor - all fully quantized. They were totally prepared when practice started, but not trying to imitate other actors.

    Back on the score reading thread, I recently purchased The Planets and The Firebird. I'm no great sight reader, so I will play the CD just enough to get anchored, then stop it and read the parts. I find that I can read the parts horizontally quickly enough, but the interesting part to me is the vertical alignment, which takes some time to analyze. Writing out the harmonic structure with Roman numerals is a great place to start.

    One thing that took me some time to get my head around is the different keys and transpositions - especially for the various clarinets in Firebird. I did some limited mock ups, and I was thinking that Stravinsky was working with some amazingly terrible harmonies, yet making them work, until I realized that I had done the transpositions wrong. It all made more sense after that!

    In the case of the mock ups, I worked closely with the CD as a target, but that was to learn how to match my mix to the mix of a real orchestra.

    I guess that for me there are so many levels to learn that some levels are best learned with the CD (instrument balance, for instance), and other levels are best worked out on paper (vertical structure analysis). Mock ups are great for proofing your work, and really groking the rhythms, if you play the parts in live.

    -JF

  9. #9
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: How to study a score?

    I was going to add something to my post, and I see several people beat me to it.

    A harmonic analysis is a must. Again, you pencil it right onto the score--on the score because you need to see it and understand what it implies about tension and resulting kinetic motion, and pencil, because as you get deeper into the score you will almost invariably find that some structures are doing something completely different than you first imagined.

    ...Bach, being an absolutely pristine example. Any college analysis text will have loads of Bach, and just going through there and figuring out exactly how the melody and counterpoint move harmonically will blow your freaking mind!!! I love this discussion, because to me, this discussion explains why theory is to important. It's not the theory that IS actually important. It's grasping it, so that you can go into a work and learn how the various bright lights of our art worked their magic...whether or not they were actually doing it with awareness of the "theory" is not the point. It is a static measure of something fluid--a measuring stick to let you know what works, and why. There are many people who will say the ear is the do all end all. Certainly I agree. But there are times that you know your ear is very pleased, but the answer to WHY your ear is pleased can teach you a lot about the psychology of sound and its effect on your fellow passengers to the grave.

    Haydn quartets are another amazing place to get concentrated score-study chops. What that man did with four parts has in many ways never been equaled.

    I'd also encourage anyone serious about score study to learn Hindemeth analysis. It is one of the simplest ways to analyze melody. Every interval is assigned a value from least to most tense, and you use it to examine how tension and release are used in great melody to keep the kinetic energy in a line alive. Again, mostly a tool for discovery rather than practice, but even in practice, good old Hindemeth has never failed me when I analyze why a melody of mine is sitting still. It is always because I am failing to either create or resolve tension, letting it sit too static. If you really study and apply Hindemeth, you can push a simple melody for minutes at a time by prolonging the buildup or resolution of tension. It's a great tool.

    Boy, I love music...

  10. #10
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    Re: How to study a score?

    Aside from the good advice offered here, one thing I was taught to do is to listen to a recording of the work and notate what you hear, then match it with what's written. Its not a total exercise in immersing yourself in the meaning of the music but rather makes you concentrate on the art of notation and transcribing what you hear in your head as accurately as possible. But it also gives you a pretty good idea of how everything fits together.

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