Thoughts on Score Study

Many roads lead to Rome and it is eventually up to each conductor to decide how one’s score study process should look like. Mark Heron has written his own Thoughts on Score Study which you can download and read here:


  • Recordings: sense or sacrilege?
  • Method
  • Marking scores


Knowing the score is one of the most important aspects of the conductor’s role. Musicians are rarely stupid people, and even a relatively inexperienced amateur can tell when the conductor is bluffing. Therefore, it is vital that the conductor has as much in-depth knowledge as possible of the document which offers the best insight into the composer’s intention: the score.

Erich Leinsdorf, in his excellent text, The Composer’s Advocate, reminds us that the score is not the music. One might think of the score in the same way as an architect’s drawing – the building does not exist on paper, but it is the primary source from which it will be created. Neither is it the only thing you will need to come up with the end product.

From a personal perspective, I think a lot about structure initially, and find that until I am comfortable with both form and the more detailed phrase structure, I find it difficult to put matters such as instrumentation, architecture of dynamics, and how long or short a fermata should be, into perspective.

I also think “big to small”: begin with a big picture overview of the whole thing, gradually adding more and more detail as I go. This is important for 2 reasons. Firstly, if I get called to go and jump in for a rehearsal or concert at really short notice and the repertoire includes something I don’t know, I have a process that works when there is no time. The more time I have, or the more important a particular situation is to me, the more detail I can go into. Secondly, it helps me to avoid knowing the first part of a movement or piece really well and the rest of it not so well. I see so many young conductors fall into this trap and orchestras spot it immediately! 

Ultimately, the correct method to use is the one which works best for you, and it goes without saying that as you gain experience your approach will change. I often take a score off the shelf that I last looked at 10 years ago and am horrified by some of the marking I find. That’s ok – we should all develop and learn from our previous indiscretions. 

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