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Score Study Part 1: What's The Score?

Edited from INTERLUDE, the Journal of ABODA, the Australian Band and Orchestral Director's Association, Victoria Branch, September 2000, as well as in a Newsletter of the Queensland Branch of ABODA.


My first advice is to pick carefully what you are going to play with your band. Ask yourself, "Would I, as a solo player, want to work on this music, does it satisfy me in terms of emotional content, melody, harmony, form, orchestration, or am I using it because it is in the library, cheap, or it just fits the social and entertainment side of the concert we are planning. Given that the band does have a social function, I do believe that as far as possible, we owe it to our players to try to find the best arrangements, and to explore new music which will tax us musically.

Try to pick music without too many clichés. All too much commercial music has formal, melodic and harmonic cliches which we would not be allowed to get away with in our University classes, and we do our musicians no favours by exploiting this repertoire. Again, it may be just what is useful, but try to get a variety of styles and moods.


The first thing I do with any score is to analyse the phrase structure, and I put at the start of each phrase a pencilled bar-count in a circle. Schnabel, the great pianist, used to reckon that when he started a phrase, he wanted to know how long it was. Much of the time it will turn out in 2, 4 or 8 bars, so when I am conducting, even if I don't know the piece very well, I can start with confidence and keep the eye contact for 2,4 or 8 bars before glancing down to see what is happening next. If a phrase is 5 bars, or 7, or in the Berlioz Symphonie Funebre et Triomphale 15 or 18, then I need to really learn that structure, and maybe look at the harmonic procedure also.

(And make sure the desk is high enough - I think we should have it low enough so we don't wreck our batons, but high enough so that we can glance down to refresh our memory without the whole band thinking "(s)he does not know the score"!)


A great book to help you in your score preparation is Guide to Score Study by Frank Battisti and Robert Garofalo, published by Meredith Music Publications. It is based on Grainger's Irish Tune from County Derry which happens to be one of the simplest pieces in the repertoire analytically: 8+8+8+8 and 8+8+8+8.

But look at the Milhaud Suite Francaise, a work that needs very careful planning, and the phrase structures are full of variety. The second movement starts with a 1 bar/MEASURE intro, followed by a 5, or 3+2, and another 5. The little plaintive oboe melody is also in 5 but here in 2 X 2 1/2 bars, as is the flute and clarinet line at bar 27. Checking with the original song source will show that this is phrased in 2+2+2 quavers rather than in 6/8, and this gives a marvellous flow. Similarly, Ile de France is often in 5 bar phrases, sometimes with a 4 bar phrase as a counter-melody, and we have to try to balance the heavy brass fortissimo with the high woodwind fortissimo.

Frank Battisti and Bob Garofalo give us a Analysis Checklist:

Melody - Harmony - Form - Rhythm - Orchestration - Dynamics - Component Flow Charts

This is the ideal, but even now in retirement I don't have time to check through all of this. I get the phrase structure done first, from which the form becomes usually pretty apparent. The Harmony I rarely have time for, partially because I don't have a good aural sense, and partially because a lot of my thinking in harmony is instinctive, and I ask my players to try to think the same. I might invite them to crescendo an inner part, not because intellectually it is such and such a progression, but because emotionally the chromatic movement demands that.


There are two composers whose music I conduct very rarely, but when I do I analyse every harmonic procedure - Bruckner and Sibelius. I need to know exactly where I am in those massive harmonic procedures - with most of the others, in most of their music I concentrate on the rest of the package. This is what I do, but anyone else might find it irrelevant.

  1. 1 Analyse the phrase structure and put the length at the beginning of each phrase, a number in a circle - (I do not recommend marking heavy lines to split up the phrases)
  2. Mark important lines, the Haupstimme, and key leads (in red) - if some player has been tacet for a long time, I will try (but not guarantee) to give a lead.
  3. 3 Mark important subsidiary lines, also red
  4. 4 Mark general dynamic levels and speed changes (in blue)
  5. 5 Analyse the key structure and pencil in main changes if necessary
  6. 6 Decide on a structure of dynamic levels; change dynamics to achieve better balance
  7. 7 Reminder of changes of pulse and tempo - (but be flexible)
  8. 8 Check on returns and recapitulations of the theme - we might want to change the phrasing a little, stretch the tempo a little, or the composer might have changed the harmonic or melodic structure a little, and perhaps we need to point this in our performance...or not.
  9. 9 Use a metronome to check on ideal speed, but then be flexible to needs of the ensemble and the hall (I am working this weekend on the edits of a recording I have conducted of the Milhaud Suite Francaise for Chandos- I love my interpretation, (pompous Brit!) it seems to me to have wit and style and clarity, but every movement is slower than Milhaud's tempo mark - tough)
  10. 10 Anticipate problems of ensemble, intonation, balance, and think of ways to avoid them. Start each rehearsal with a match plan, but be flexible because the players might take you in a different direction. Always be sensitive to the artistry of your players

Now why go through this phrase analysis job?


  1. 1. We need to conduct the phrasing and the internal dynamics. The players have the dynamic bare bones, but they don't know where the music is going to or coming from, and they might not understand their particular job at the time, either playing the main melody, the counter-melody, the harmonic backing, or giving a rhythmic or hamonic twist. The great conducting teacher, Ilya Musin, used to stop our students time and time again to ask where was the phrase going - that is the secret which you have from your study of the score, and which you need to transmit in your conducting.
  2. 2. The work becomes smaller, manageable, (even a Mahler Symphony) and the mechanical business of memorising is the first stage towards knowing the piece completely. I am not suggesting that you need to conduct from memory, and in fact I think conducting with a score is harder in many ways, but ideally you do need to know where the piece is going, the balance of the phrases, the balance of the sonorities, the slight changes of tempo, the architecture of the whole movement and then the whole work.

In our score preparation of whatever work at whatever level, I believe that we need to isolate two, three or more instrumental groups and their function.

  1. 1 The leading part, Schoenberg's Haupstimme.
  2. 2 The secondary part, or counter melody, Schoenberg's Nebenstimme
  3. 3/4 The accompaniment

In general, we should conduct the Haupstimme, follow the line, show the phrasing, indicate its relative importance. However, it may be that the subsidiary part is of equal or more importance - perhaps at the cadence, perhaps on a repeat, perhaps because of the scoring.

With both lines, it is of vital importance to energise the characteristic of the line, to give the melody or countermelody its own rhythmic vitality, and to insist on imaginative and clear phrasing, giving a proper diction to the phrases and sentences.

The harmonic movement also needs clarity; the phrasing of the harmony may well contrast with the main lines, chromatic movement may need an espressivo, chords will need placing so that without being jerky and accented, they still indicate a pulse.


In the wind orchestra we do not have to work hard at making a lot of noise.

We must work hard
1 Controlling lower levels
2 Anticipating dynamic events

Crescendo should start quietly - diminuendo should start loudly

If one has crescendoed too much too early, it leaves no room to crescendo further. If one has arrived to early at the top of a crescendo curve, one has no choice but to remain in that dynamic plateau and await the point where the crescendo really should have peaked. Gunther Schuller


subito piano is more effective if preceded by a crescendo
subito forte is more effective if preceded by diminuendo
the first fortissimo is the smallest, the last is the biggest


Build an architecture of dynamic levels in your phrasing and in your whole concept of the piece, and insist in all of your work that one of our biggest problems is CONTROL. Many of our performance halls are too small, much of our repertoire is too loud, the sound of a smallish wind ensemble is often too brilliant, and many of us encourage this brilliance with our conducting gestures.

One of the most common faults among young learning conductors, for example, is to conduct with huge emotion-laden beats, when the dynamic the composer has written is, say, p. No orchestra in the world will play a true p when the conductor is belabouring it with three-foot-long beats or huge flailing motions. What is even worse is when the conductor then criticises the orchestra for playing too loud! Gunther Schuller

Most writers will leave the dynamic balance up to the conductor or the performers. The fortissimo that goes up and down the score is rarely how it should be played. We have to explain what fortissimo means. It means different things where it occurs in the score, whether it is in the melody or support areas. Too much of the loud nullifies any attempts toward musical climax.

Generally, due to problems in control, bands tend to use a rather narrow range of dynamics, ignoring those of lesser weight. Also, young players naturally tend to feel that a dynamic indication is a fixed quantity. They must be taught that dynamics must be considered in relation to the composer, the tempo, and the type of music. They must realise that a forte in a Haydn minuet is quite different from a forte in Wagner's Tannhauser March.

The purpose of dynamic change is to sustain interest on the part of the listener, as well as to create a mood. Obviously, the wider the dynamic range of the band, the better prepared they are to do both. In the name of good taste, we should caution young players that no dynamic indication, no matter how many fff 's ' requires the absolute maximum of sound that can be gotten from an instrument.
Walter Beeler


It seems that it rarely occurs to conductors and their apologists, if it is a question of balance or dynamics, to occasionally make the other parts play softer. Gunther Schuller


One of the biggest problems with the wind band is one of its greatest strengths, its brilliance, produced by all of these dominant colours. There are some pastel shades, low flutes, bassoons, some saxophone, horn and euphonium scoring, but on the whole we are lucky to have a glittering range of bright colours, which can and often does get very tiring to the ear. We have two jobs in my view, whether with the orchestra, band or choir. believe that our biggest job is CONTROL of this brilliance. The band will play forte very easily, and I actually have a T-Shirt which says FORTE IS A LIGHT DYNAMIC.

The band colours are primary, and need that lightness of touch. Persuade your players that their first entry, after applause and silence, need not be enormous, that the first forte or fortissimo fanfare must be treated as the lightest forte or fortissimo in the piece. Our job is to make the effect with the minimum effort. How often do we hear a piece which ends loudly, but not very loudly, and the audience is not sure whether to clap or not. Reserve the biggest fortissimo for the end, and make sure that the previous music is leading up to it.


The great band will have a great internal balance, lower harmonic parts telling and clear but balanced with the melodic material, that alto and tenor register stronger than the treble. A few comments below from some of the great conductors:

Another kind of balancing problem arises from conventions of classical scoring. Composers often wrote one dynamic mark for the entire vertical scoring involved. Rare are the instances of graded dynamics in scores prior to 1850 They expected the performers to adjust their instruments' relative strength according to the primary or secondary importance of their roles. Erich Leinsdorf

Most writers will leave the dynamic balance up to the conductor or the performers. The fortissimo that goes up and down the score is rarely how it should be played. We have to explain what fortissimo means. It means different things where it occurs in the score, whether it is in the melody or support areas. Too much of the loud nullifies any attempts toward musical climax. Walter Beeler

It is at that very highest level of performance that a wealth of interpretative choices and decisions become available at least to the really sensitive intelligent and imaginative recreator. It is in this realm that there is not one pp but many subtly different pp's; not one f but many different kinds of f's not one slur but many kinds of legato. Gunther Schuller

The smallest voice in the texture determines the dynamic. Nothing is constant. If the brass are playing against the woodwind, it is the woodwind who define forte. The brass cannot play like "brass" but must think of themselves as "brass players who are balancing woodwinds. Walter Beeler


The problem is that we hear a band and say "that's a great sound but it is like a steady diet of chocolate caramel ice cream - rich, thick beautiful, full and boring. I like to create different timbres within the parameters of a good sound. Sometimes those sounds may be on the brink of "not so good", but they are interesting, and even demanded by some contemporary compositions. James Croft.

Band tone is of the utmost and primary importance because until we get what we call "a good basic band tone" there isn't any point in going on to anything else. My ideal is to strive for a round, relaxed, soft concept. The reason 1 like a rather mellow tone is that 1 think we tire of anything too sensational. So often we hear bands with constant intensity and enthusiasm of sound, and they completely exhaust us. If a band has a general failing, it is probably that its overall tone is too brilliant and often much too hard. It's possible to do a lot of damage with brass instruments. To create a more pleasing sound, it helps to think of blowing a lot of air slowly through the instruments rather than a small amount fast. In other words, I think it's the speed of the air stream that creates the hard sound. 1 would rather the players feel that they are getting the horns filled up, but in a relaxed way. Walter Beeler

Working for good colour and blend is far more crucial to intonation than making the difference of two cents in the pitch. Craig Kirchoff


James Croft advises: I always enjoyed Revelli's admonition, "Don't let the notes touch". Some articulations are heavy, some are light. We're looking to create contrast and interest.

Jim and Dr. Revelli are absolutely right; we must create clarity. Let plenty of air into your articulation and phrasing, as so often phrases overlap, and so often we create a continuous sludgey continuous sound. Remember that the most important note in any bar is the smallest. Look after the little notes, look after the upbeats, lighten strong beats when you can and free yourself from the tyranny of the bar-line, but make sure that any rhythm is given its own character.


These are roughly my approaches to any score. I suppose it can all be summed up in a few words, phrasing, dynamics, tone, balance and clarity.


The comments from Walter Beeler are edited by Dr Mark Fonder and appeared in a WASBE Newsletter.

Whether this approach works can be judged from the recordings by the Royal Northern College of Music of major repertoire by Grainger, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Schoenberg, Hindemith and Berlioz.

RNCM Chandos Recordings Available

Also available at £10.00, 15 Euros or $15.00, including postage and packing.

  • CHAN 9549 - Percy Grainger works for Wind Orchestra volume 1
  • CHAN 9630 - Percy Grainger works for Wind Orchestra volume 2
  • CHAN 9697 - British Wind Band Classics, Holst and Vaughan Williams
  • CHAN 9805 - German Wind Band Classics, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Toch and Blacher
  • CHAN 9897 - French Wind Band Classics, Berlioz, Schmitt, Milhaud Bozza and Saint-Saens
  • DOYCD 037 - Morning Music - Midnight Music: The Wind Music of Richard Rodney Bennett and Irwin Bazelon