A guide to score preparation

score marking.jpg

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?
  • Bowings?
  • “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

Your preparation:

  • 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)

Rehearsal ideas:

  • 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

Feel free to download a copy of this for your files, I hope you find it useful.  Please, never hesitate to contact me – I’m always happy to talk with young and aspiring musicians.