Joseph Mendoes - cello expert

The Importance of Score Study on the cello

Learn what to do even before you start playing a musical piece.

In this video, Prof. Mendoes talks about "score-study" and how important it is to analyze a musical piece before even starting to practice it. A must see!

Released on April 1, 2015

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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. This is Joseph Mendoes with another video for

You may be wondering, where is my instrument? I always start off these videos with my instrument in front of me. And usually, I demonstrate something or something like that. But today, I'm not going to be demonstrating anything. Today's video is actually about the importance of score study, actually. By score study, I mean whatever music it is that you're playing, just the visual going through and going over of it without the instrument in front of you.

This process, I know many of you already do this, but I'm doing this video primarily to kind of stress how important I think this process really is. I think it's absolutely critical to really understand the work that you're going to perform or the work that you're studying or even the work that you're just going to be playing just for your own enjoyment. Your own enjoyment and your ability to pull in the piece will greatly improve the more you do this kind of score study.

Holding here in front of me, I have . . . I don't know if you can see it, but it's my copy to the Dvorak cello concerto. And I've played this piece many times. And it's always interesting to me that when I'm doing score study, when I'm just looking at the part or, even better, looking at the full orchestral score or just the piano reduction or something, it always stuns me how much I learn about the piece and how much I discover is lacking in my own approach to the piece.

When we're in front of the cello . . . well, behind the cello. When we have the cello in front of us and we're practicing a piece, very often what happens is is we let our little foibles with the instrument get in the way of actually what the composer was trying to say. You see, very often, in cases such as the Dvorak cello concerto or the Haydn cello concertos or the Brahms cello sonatas or the Beethoven sonatas or whatever piece you can think of, most of the time, the really great works were not written by cellists. Of course, there were many pieces that were written by cellists. And they're written in such a way so that they fit the cello a little bit more nicely, some of them a little more than others.

But certainly, works like the Brahms sonatas, for example, or this Dvorak cello concerto, certainly, it was written with the cello in mind but was written with purely a composer's outlook on the world. And they don't really think too much about the kinds of normal difficulties that we have as cellists. They, of course, expect us to transcend those difficulties when we perform.

So in a way, I guess, this subject today is an extension of my last video on technique and musicality. But what I encourage all of you to do is to spend a certain amount of your practice time really just studying the score, studying the music, and just visually. And also, if you're not very inhibited, then singing it out loud. Or if you're more inhibited, just singing it in your own head. What you'll find is that there are all sorts of little markings and articulations and dynamics and things that you're just not doing that are there in the score, that you think that you're doing but really are not happening in your performance. And so this is, I think, a really, really powerful tool to be able to discover a lot about your playing technically and also what your approach is musically.

I briefly mentioned, I think, in the last video on technique and musicality, that your musicality is something that is innate in you. It's something that's there. Some of us are more extroverted. Some of us are more introverted. We all have different personalities. Some of us are more emotional. Some of us are more logical. And it's really critical, in order to perform well, I think, to be able to stay true to that personality. And there is no more surefire way to figure out what your performing personality is or how you actually want to phrase something or play something than by actually studying the music.

Now, as far as the portion of how much should you be practicing, how much should you be doing score study, and all that, well, I can tell you this. Rostropovich said that whenever he first got one of his new works that he had either commissioned or had been written for him or something like that, and he's going to premiere the piece, the first thing he always did was he went over to the piano. And he played through the whole work from the piano just to understand the structure, understand the kind of sounds that are involved in the work, not only that, but what is going to be demanded of him as the cellist. And then he would practice.

And he also claimed that he never practiced more than two hours a day. I doubt that's true. But certainly, I would say that, two hours of practice a day is a good amount for anybody to be able to maintain your technique. But more important than that, than the amount that you practice is your vision for how you're going to practice really, really clear. You develop that vision by studying the music really well. You also then can figure out exactly how different you want to sound from everybody. But I guess I already said that.

So anyway, that's what I would encourage all of you to do. And again, I'm sorry there's no demonstrations today or no actual technical advice. But again, I feel this is a really, really, really important topic.

So I can't wait to see all of your comments. I hope many of you already do this kind of score study. But if there are some of you out there who are practicing really hard but are still very much kind of struggling and having difficulty with technical things and musical things and all this, I encourage you actually to maybe even practice a little bit less. Take a little bit of that practice time with the cello and spend it without the cello. And I think you'll find a freshness in your approach and a level of mental control and mental awareness over what your body is doing physically.

Once again, this has been Joseph Mendoes for another video for I encourage you to leave comments. Once again, I know I mentioned this in the previous videos. But for any of you who is watching this video for the first time, I encourage you, do not leave comments on YouTube. I will not see them. Go to the website, where I will see those comments.

And also, just to briefly mention once again, I am now offering lessons on Skype and also a diagnostic video. If you want more information on that, you go to my website, It's on the Meet the Experts page under my name. And contact me via the contact form that you can fill out on the website for more information.

So thanks again. And this has been Joseph Mendoes for
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User Comments and Questions

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Ro on April 29, 2015 @11:01 am PST
Hello Joseph , thank you very much. This is very important for me
to read this. this is the first time that I play in a orkest, but also very difficult. And I am a beginner here in the orkest. When I read what you are writing, it will help me a lot: looking at the full orchestral score. It helps. thank you
Joseph - host, on April 30, 2015 @7:32 pm PST
Hello Ro,

Isn't it exciting to play in an orchestra! Keep studying, you will get better!
John Roberts on April 6, 2015 @1:28 pm PST
Thank you for your videos! I am working on The Swan, and your video on that work is very helpful. I really appreciate the detail.

I request a video on Bach's Sarabande (BWV 1011 - Largo).


John Roberts
Marian MacLeod on April 1, 2015 @4:21 pm PST
This was excellent, JOseph. If I might make a suggestion: it would have been good to SHOW us a score so we can see what is happening in other instruments, even while we have rests; and to talk about the value of downloading the music by a professional group so we can learn the piece as a whole and know what to expect.
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