For some of us, it’s been a while since our last course on score study. Perhaps you’ve attended clinics on the subject to brush up on your knowledge and skills. The following is an approach to score study that I hope proves helpful when you prepare for rehearsals.
Always begin by identifying the key signature and tonality. This is a crucial step, because it will help you determine if you need to approach rehearsals from major, minor, or multiple tonalities. The key and tonality of a piece tell us a great deal about how to prepare for and structure our rehearsals. Let’s use a piece many of you are likely familiar with as a score study example – “Vesuvius” by Frank Ticheli.
The key signature has one flat, so we are most likely in F major or D minor. The opening ostinato, however, is tonally ambiguous. Repeated concert A’s in percussion, saxophones, bassoons and clarinets could belong in either key. Half step gestures in m. 9 between concert A and Bb and open fifths of A/E beginning in m. 10 seem to indicate some form of A might instead be the key center. In measure 15, altos play a concert D-C# gesture. Although FM or Dm were likely candidates, the repeated A resting tone coupled with Bb’s can only mean one thing: A Phrygian! If you haven’t already, check the front of your score to learn that Ticheli utilizes rondo form (ABACA) and the tonality changes throughout the piece. In m. 44 the percussion ostinato changes to concert D and low brass play a D minor chord.
We’ve already learned information from identifying the key signature and tonality that can help inform our rehearsal practice. Students will need performing experiences in numerous tonalities. While scales are one way to practice, a chorale would be much more useful. When students play a scale, they are only listening horizontally and miss an opportunity to build their aural skills. Performing chorales is a way to engage students in vertical, harmonic listening. Each cadence becomes a potential harmony they will hear and need to balance and tune within the piece. Write one chorale in each tonal center of the piece. If you are short on time, you can also use the same chorale but transposed. Make sure to check for cautionary accidentals! If you continue this practice for each piece you play, you’ll eventually have a resource available for every tonality. Have students compare and contrast their parts and cadence points. If you really want to play scales, tie the practice directly back to scalar motives in the work. For examples in this piece, see m. 23 and m. 25. Consider practicing arpeggiated chords as well. This can transfer well to places like m. 27.
Intonation is always a challenge. Consider the many locations where sections play at the octave/unison (m. 1 saxes) or open fifths (m. 10). Intonation can also suffer during the aforementioned arpeggiations – students will not play a high enough pitch for the top note or low enough pitch for the bottom note. Try practicing the arpeggios slowly and have students focus on centering their pitch on the top and bottom notes. Can you build arpeggiations into your chorales? Singing through the arpeggios or a background drone on concert A may also prove useful to help further establish Phrygian tonality. Identify tonalities throughout the rest of the piece and mark them in your score. Since the form of the piece is a rondo, it can be especially helpful to connect ideas from A sections. While it is easy to look at a composer’s score notes to learn about the piece, put yourself in the same position as students and try to identify concepts the old-fashioned way. If you expect students to be able to identify harmonies through experience, you should too. Additionally, if you discover the various tonal centers on your own, you will better be ale to identify where students may struggle.
Now that you’ve explored the key, tonalities, and several rehearsal ideas, let’s look at the meter. The piece begins in 4/4 but changes to 9/8 with Motive 1 in Section A, m. 47. Ticheli has been kind enough to break down the subdivisions for us (2+3+2+2), but for the sake of practice we’ll imagine he did not. In looking at the solo saxophone line, we can already tell that 9/8 is not a symmetrical distribution of 3+3+3. Based on the saxophone part, the meter is either (4+5), (2+3+2+2), (4+3+2), or (2+3+4). Percussion 2 and Clarinet 1 are here to help! Percussion 2 shows a clear (2+3+2+2) beaming at the microbeat level and Clarinet 1 at the macrobeat level. Have your students practice rhythms that follow this subdivision structure out of context. Perhaps use the same warm up chorale, but have a version in 9/8 meter. Students will benefit from practicing the groupings as both microbeats and microbeats since those are reflective of their parts. Make sure to write rhythm patterns that include rests. Draw potential rest patterns from the score. For examples, see m. 57 Flute 2 and m. 63 Oboe 2. There are many meter changes throughout this piece. Use the above tools to determine beat groupings and generate practice materials.
Key, tonality, and meter are the foundations of any piece of music and can inform a significant amount of your rehearsal preparation. Once you’ve identified these basic concepts, find each theme or motive from the piece and write down: who, what, when, where, and why. Knowing the who helps with balance. The what will inform rhythm and melodic challenges. When and where can determine form and transitions. Mostly importantly, the why of music combines all of these ideas and summarizes what is most important about the piece and the information students will need in order to succeed.
Dr. Alyssa Grey is Assistant Professor of Instrumental Music Education and Director of Wind Studies at Berry College in Georgia. She completed undergraduate degrees in Music Education and Music Theory & Composition from the University of Miami, a Masters degree in Music Education from the Eastman School of Music, and a PhD in Music Education at the University of North Texas where she studied wind band conducting with Eugene Migliaro Corporon. Alyssa has presented sessions and research with the College Music Society, NJMEA, FMEA, OKMEA, ArkMEA, TMEA, the Texas Bandmasters Association, the Society for Music Teacher Education, the National Association for Music Education, and the Midwest Clinic. Dr. Grey also performed professionally in the Dallas Symphony Chorus for five seasons.