One of the questions I asked most frequently in the beginning of my conducting study was, “How do I study a score?” I never got a straight answer (because there isn’t one), and my question morphed into many more:
- What edition of the score should I buy?
- Is it OK to listen to recordings?
- How do I mark a score?
- Should I do a full Roman numeral analysis?
- “Hier ist das Zeitmaß durch die vorangegangene unmerkliche Steigerung bereits “Energisch bewegt” (ohne zu eilen) geworden; dasselbe ist noch immer weiter zu steigern bis zum Eintritt des a tempo (Più mosso)” …do I need to know German?
The beautiful part of this is the more you learn, the less you realize you know.
While searching for answers is the way we learn, I decided to draft up something a little more practical – a one page document that doesn’t give all the answers, but it does offer a good place for a young conductor to start.
- Get your own score, make sure it’s the same edition the orchestra is working from
- Listen to as many recordings of good conductors/orchestras you can; follow along
- Get your ‘trail markers’ marked – measure numbers (at least beginning of every system), circle rehearsal letters, time/tempo changes
- Know the formal pillars and key areas (at a minimum)
- Know the translations of any instructions printed in the music
- Be able to sing (musically) all the way through without the score
- Know your tempi (clock it with a metronome)
- Know who plays what/when (cues)
- Physically practice beginnings and transitions 10x more than anything else
- Watch them, and be sure they’re watching their principals
- Weight and speed is what influences color/sound quality
- Encourage good bow distribution (similar to air support for a vocalist/wind player)
- Articulation – is it on or off the string? How far off?
- Direction changes are necessary to adjust if you’re not achieving the phrasing you want
- You can always check out the NY Phil Archives http://archives.nyphil.org/
Technical components for rehearsal:
- Who has the figures that drive the whole? Latch everyone on to them
- Ties and slurs always cause rhythmic lapses
- Basses are late, that’s correct at least 50% of the time with most orchestras (sorry)
- Listen like crazy, they need to do the same
- Try it without conducting, it forces them to listen more (probably you too)
- Simply repeat a passage – at least 50% of the problems will fix themselves
- Say two, or three things, no more, then go back; Be specific as to why
- Always go for the musical solution
- “It’s not together,” is too simple (even though it may be true)
- Sing what you want for them, words get in the way
- Use musical terminology: “brilliante” gets a different result than “louder”
- Make changes that encourage them to write in their part
- ex. “Please change that mf to mp.”
- Avoid the temptation to give them a theory or history lesson…they’re there to rehearse
Anticipating what they’ll ask for:
- First movements are typical
- Anything where you need to navigate transitions; places where they need you
- Anything that is in one with a triple subdivision