Tag Archives: studying music scores

An Approach to Studying Written Music

13 Apr

I have recently studied pieces by Beethoven, Bartók and Manuel de Falla, and used this approach. It proved to be helpful. Benjamin Hochman, a great Israeli Classical pianist, once suggested I will l give it try.

The basic idea is simple: for a while, refuse the temptation to play the music on your instrument. Get it ingrained in you in other ways.

1. Spend time reading the score. If you don’t have absolute pitch, you can check notes and phrases on an instrument every now and then. Not too much, though, as part of the idea is to develop your inner hearing.

2. Make note of the various tempo markings throughout the piece. Feel the tempo. You can use a metronome. Try singing the music in the marked tempos.

3. If the score includes foreign-language performance instructions which you are not familiar with, this is the time to look them up in a music dictionary and understand what they are.

4. Notice the appearance of new themes, new phases and so on. Begin to understand what the piece is about.

5. Get physical. You may move your fingers around, approximating the movements that you will later be required to perform.

Get a sense of the physicality of the piece: your hands go here, then they go there, then an immediate quick leap from here to there, and so on. This will supply major short cuts once you will approach your instrument.

6. Listen to recordings or watch videos while reading. This is not a must, and some classical players will advise against it, to avoid emulating others. I personally like knowing what other pianists are doing, and I still do the complete opposite when I feel like it.

7. Begin practicing the piece on your instrument; If you have never tried everything described above, the first moment of playing will most likely be a moment of revelation.

Note for Improvisers:

I have done this with Jazz as well. Learning the written music itself is usually a much shorter procedure then in Classical music; but figuring out ways to improvise on it, is a cool thing to do while away from your instrument.

First of all, it is effective. Singing a couple of solo choruses helps you internalizing the harmonic structure. You can think about improvisational strategies that the given tune may suggest, and become familiar with them.

Second, we all have our improvisational tendencies when we play our instruments. Beginning your relationship with a tune away from the instrument, you become connected to the music on a deeper level. It often provides you the starting point for a more original and genuine improvising approach.

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