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crookedmelody

Studying scores

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I am reading a biography about frank zappa and it said that when he was teaching himself to compose, he would study scores of his favorite composers.

I was wondering if anyone had any advice as to how I should go about doing this?

I took out a book of scores of Beethoven's string quartets. I thought this would be better than trying to study the score from a symphony, since it woudnt be quite as complex.

SO any tips on hot to go about studying a score?

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There are several ways to go about this, but my primary advice would be to concentrate on one thing.

For example, study the instrumentation (how is a specific chord divided between instruments? In what registers are the instruments playing? In which dynamics/articulations/techniques? etc.) - and this doesn't only apply to orchestral works! Even "just" a string quartet can be very enlightening in this aspect.

Or study the form. If it's a sonata form (such as most first movements of classical string quartets), read up on that form, then try finding the specific parts of said form in that piece. That alone can be very challenging in many of Beethoven's later works - so I'd start out with earlier ones.

Or, instead of looking at the broad form, do the contrary and only look at a very small part of the piece, but study it very closely, say, in regards to harmony etc.

There are tons of different approaches, most of which are as valid as the others, if you actually concentrate on them and take them seriously.

Last but not least, it's a great exercise to simply read a score, without actually analysing, and imagining how it might sound. Alternatively: Try playing it on a piano. If it's too hard to play all of it, try reducing it to something you -can- play, such as just the melody and the harmonies below it and a rough idea of the figurations and rhythms. Just the act of reducing a piece to a playable form on the piano can give you huge insights in the things that define a piece. Or, another related alternative: Try conducting the score to an imaginary group of musicians. Look through it carefully, try to see what the critical parts may be and how you would show different aspects of the piece to your performers.

But again: Just be inventive. Just working through score after score with a predetermined method may be useful to some limited degree - but it's often a lot more enlightening to approach it a little bit more "playfully" (which doesn't mean non-seriously...) and challenging yourself to find a new perspective on every new piece you study.

And again: Learn to limit yourself. Don't try to "understand everything" about every piece you're looking at. Set yourself specific, limited goals and go for them.

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Thanks so much!! Ill definitely have to give all this a try. Do you personally believe that studying a score will improve one's composition skills?

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Who knows. "Composition skill" is hard to define. But I believe that it is beneficial to any musician to have a broad knowledge about music - and this is a good way of obtaining such knowledge. And this is a kind of knowledge that is more directly applicable to composition than many other forms of musical knowledge.

In the end, in order to develop whatever one might consider "composition skill", you'll probably have to do exactly that: Compose. But yes, I think studying scores can be very helpful to assist that. It's always good to know what others have done, what solutions others have come up with, etc. And often, it is while studying the works of others that we discover something of ourselves in it and get the incentive of digging deeper in this direction. And personally, I believe composition is a lot, maybe even mostly, about digging deeper in directions that are curious to us.

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I am reading a biography about frank zappa and it said that when he was teaching himself to compose, he would study scores of his favorite composers.

I was wondering if anyone had any advice as to how I should go about doing this?

I took out a book of scores of Beethoven's string quartets. I thought this would be better than trying to study the score from a symphony, since it woudnt be quite as complex.

SO any tips on hot to go about studying a score?

Wellll...

I studied and copied out Sibelius' 4th symphony (It's a great piece, by the way) and I think it really helped me out.

Studying scores is very important. I think you should look at the score, see if it looks like something you'd like to spend time with, so to speak, and then start copying it out. I think it's easiest to do it on the computer, but you can do it any way you want. I think you should always start with the piece, then, what I did, is write a piece based on one of the themes in it. I think that way you get a better understanding of the piece.

Happy studying!

Heckel

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I'd also advise as you go along study scores from a wide variety of genres and time periods because sticking to just beethoven may be very interesting but there is a lot more awesome music out there to read up.

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Wellll...

I studied and copied out Sibelius' 4th symphony (It's a great piece, by the way) and I think it really helped me out.

Studying scores is very important. I think you should look at the score, see if it looks like something you'd like to spend time with, so to speak, and then start copying it out. I think it's easiest to do it on the computer, but you can do it any way you want. I think you should always start with the piece, then, what I did, is write a piece based on one of the themes in it. I think that way you get a better understanding of the piece.

Happy studying!

Heckel

What do you mean by "copying out"?

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You gonna do another one Graham?

I've done the same thing, copying out pieces, but I tend to take it a step further where I'll arrange them or re-orchestrate them to something better. I've done Berlioz's Band Symphony, Tchaik Piano Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 5, Widor Organ Symphony No. 5, and bits and pieces of Mahler, though his stuff is too overwhelming to do a full copy IMO.

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I'm also quite interested in this topic, thanks for posting! I just received Holst's planets suite and Beethoven's symphonies 1-4 in full score and was going to copy them and look at orchestration and chords/chord progression. Are these good scores to study even though they are from different time periods and use different compositional tendencies? Thanks for more tips Gardener and Heckle :]

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I'd recommend; How Ravel Orchestrated:Mother Goose Suite By Peter Lawrence Alexander. (library might have it, that's where I found the copy I read.)

This basically breaks down the entire score for you, provides you with a recorded copy, and the score. Plus this score is amazing and a lot can be learned from looking at it.

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