The What & Why of Score Study

No matter what instrument you play, you will probably have to play with others at some point. Multiple parts means there is a score available for the piece. So, I wanted to talk about score study.

What is it? Should you study scores? Why do you need to know the other parts? Those are all good questions that I hope to answer in this post. The short answer: score study is very important for understanding a work in its entirety.

In most cases, there is more to a piece than just the part you play. There will be other melodic lines and more accompaniment-based parts. So, here are the ins and outs of score study and how to get started.

What is Score Study?

Score study is something that all conductors and many advanced and professional musicians do with every piece they work on. Score study is exactly that: you study the entire score.

Studying a score allows you to figure out what is going on in each part at each moment in a piece. It could be as simple as a solo or as complex as an orchestral tutti passage.

Looking at the score and all its components can also tell you how and where you fit in. Are you the root of the chord? What kind of chord is it? How do your dynamics relate to other instruments?

Those are all good questions that can be answered from looking at a score.

Who Should Practice Score Study?

If you are a musician who plays with others, and you are no longer a beginner player, you should practice score study. Once you know the fundamentals of how to play your instrument, you can start to learn how to play the music.

Score study gives you more than just the notes and markings for your part. Knowing the relationship you have to other parts will allow you to make more informed choices regarding dynamics and articulation.

If you are a more advanced or professional player, you should definitely work score study into your routine. Just a few minutes with a score can answer many questions you have about a piece you’re working on.

What if I don’t own the score?

For solos and chamber music, you can find the score or accompaniment part online. You can order it from many different online shops, or you can look for it on IMSLP.

If you want to see the score for a large ensemble, check IMSLP or ask your director if you can borrow a copy. If that doesn’t work, you can then make a list of questions to ask the director next time you meet with them.

However, you should own both the solo part and the accompaniment to any solo repertoire that you are working on. Yes so you can use it for score study, but also so that you can provide a copy of the music to an accompanist if needed.

Another option if you really can’t get your own copy is to check with a local library or interlibrary loan program to see if you can borrow a copy. That way, you can make marks in your part so that you can be better prepared for a performance.

How I Started Score Study

The first time I had to actually study a score was for music history. Each semester, we were assigned a work from the standard orchestral repertoire to analyze. I had to find the main themes, any changes in key or tempo, and other big parts of the score.

Then I had score study assignments again during my conducting class. As a conductor, you need to know what is going on in each part through the whole piece. So conducting really made me aware of more than just my part.

If you are feeling intimidated, start small. Take a look at a duet, either from your teacher or your own collection. How do the two parts relate? What is each part doing? Where is the melody? Ask yourself those questions and the other questions scattered throughout this post. They will help get you started.

How it Helped Me

An example of how score study helped me perform a piece happened last year. I was set to play Mozart’s Andante in C for flute as part of a recital. The piece has piano accompaniment, and the piano part helped me understand how the flute line works.

There is a section in the middle where the piece changes key, but that is not obvious in the flute part alone. So taking a look at the entire score showed me that it does change. Instead of trying to make it sound major, I was able to make a better choice to give a more solemn tone to that phrase.

So…

Score study may sound intimidating, but it can open your eyes to a whole side of music making. You can actually see what is going on in other parts. It’s pretty cool when you think about it.

Have you done score study before? How has it helped? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to follow me on Instagram (@killerharmony) subscribe below for exclusive music tips sent straight to your inbox!

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