Adrian Casas Lupercio - conducting expert

What is Score Studying

All conductors need to study scores with the right approach.

In this video, Adrian talks about "score studying." What is it, and how do you approach it?

Released on September 2, 2020

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello everyone. My name is Adrian Casas. I am a violinist and conductor from Regina, Canada, and we are here today to talk about score studying. So score studying is one of those things that every conductor does it differently. Some conductors are very methodical about how they do score studying, they try to find about the literature of the work, and they don't do anything else before they move on to the score analysis and the score interpretation later on, and they are very methodical about the whole process.

Some other conductors, like myself included, are kind of back and forth between the different parts of the score studying. So every time I find something really cool about the piece I am working on, some really cool literature about the piece that I'm working on, and something that applies to the work that I am working on, then I write it down on the score and then I get lost in the music of the score. And then I have to go back to the literature and read it. And go back and forth between those. So whatever your process is, that's fine. I hope that these quick study guide help you out in either case.

So the first step about score studying is try to find as much as you can about the composer and the composition that you're working on. And try to read as much as you can about the composer and what was going on around the time that the composer was writing the piece that you're working on, right? So try to see if maybe that composer was going through a difficult time in their life, or a happy time in their life. Try to see if there were on any social events that affected the composer. See if there are any extra musical aspects of the composition that might have inspired the composition and feel free to write them down in your score. If you're reading about the composer or about the composition, and you find something really cool about the composition, then feel free to write it down on your score so that you can remember when you are doing your score analysis, and hopefully that affects your point of view or your interpretation of the score.

Now, when you're finding out about the literature of the composition, make sure that you don't get too stuck on the literature reading. And the only reason is because you want to get to the music eventually. And remember that, that is a never ending work. Sometimes, you will read about music, or you will read about the literature or about the biography or anything, and you will find a stuff that you were not looking for in other work. So don't get too stuck in there and make sure that you move on into the music.

The next step of your score study is skim through the score. So make sure that you don't get too stuck on the details just yet. Skim through the score so try to read through just from the beginning to the end of the score, make sure that perhaps there are some program notes in the score by the composer or by the editor. And sometimes those program notes, tell you a lot about the work more than what you will find in your literature studying. So make sure that you read through the score and while you're reading through the score, while you're skimming through the score, make sure that you don't go into the details, but try to find all of those musical terms that you perhaps are not familiar with. Foreign languages, that you might not know that might help you interpret the score better. If you have a friend that speaks the language, then feel free to approach that friend and make sure that they translate for you and try to find anything unusual that you see in the score.

When you're skimming through the score, also check out the instrumentation of the work. See if the instrumentation is a typical instrumentation of the time of the composition or if it is an unusual instrumentation or if there are any instruments in there that you might not be familiar with, or that don't belong to the time and find out why, if that is the case.

The next step on your score study is your score analysis. Now, make sure that you don't get too stuck on the details right from the beginning. And the only reason is because you want to be able to know the score from beginning to end, right? So some people get really, really stuck on the details of sections and they don't move on to the details of one section before they go to the next section. And eventually, what you're going to find out is that you will run out of time. So you don't want to run out of time to know the entire score. So my best advice is always go macro to micro to micro. And so for example, get very familiar with the beginning and at the end of your piece, add any transitions in between, any tempo transitions, key transitions, fermatas, tempo changes, anything like that, because that's where your musicians are going to need you the most, beginning and transitions, fermatas.

After that, then start to divide your work into sections from bigger sections to smaller sections up until you get to phrases. And once you get to phrases, then that's where you start to get into the details. Make sure that you observe all your dynamics. Make sure that you check out the harmonies and who is leading that phrase or that section, right? Which instrument is on the background? The dynamics would probably tell you that. Which instrument is on the background? Which instrument has a cool melody or the cool parts or the cool music? And then go back and forth. Make sure you also will probably notice that there are some sections in there, some musical terms that you might have missed on your skimming section, right? So write them down, try to find those musical terms, but always go macro to micro to micro, right? And that will help you get a better idea of the score. At that point, you're also trying to make an idea in your head of how the music is going to sound or how the music is sounding in your head.

And the last part of your score study is your interpretation. So run it from the beginning to the end as if you were conducting it in front of the ensemble or in front of an audience, and try to bring out your own musical ideas based on the analysis that you already did, based on all the study that you already did. Now, at that point, you will probably realize that you might have missed something or perhaps you were not as familiar with some sections than others. And that is okay. You can always go back to step one, step two, step three, step four. You can always go back and forth. And you would find that some sections are more challenging than others and that's where you have to go back and forth between and your score analysis steps, and that is okay.

Remember that this is always a never ending work. Sometimes, you will think that you know everything about the work and then you take it or you revisit it later in life and then you realize that, that you could probably have number there, or you probably missed some details. And that is okay, that is okay. It's a never ending work and you can always learn more and more and more. So be proud of what you do, but be always open to learning more. That's it for me. Thank you very much for watching. If you are interested in score studying in more details, keep an eye on my conducting lessons coming up soon. And thank you very much for watching. Stay safe.
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