Understanding musical scores
Understanding musical scores

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Understanding musical scores

3.1 Working collaboratively with a score

In the following video, the performers discuss how they use a score to work together as they rehearse and create a performance. Each player will have a slightly different view of the music, as they will generally only see the line of music that they play as an individual. This notation for a particular player is often called a ‘part’.

If the music is for a single instrument with piano, such as a violin sonata or a song, the pianist will usually play from music that includes the instrumental or vocal line as well as the piano part, and can often act as a coordinator because they can see the music for both instruments. Here, pianist Jeremy Young explains how although each player only sees their own part, they also work with a score to collaboratively create their performance.

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_musical_score_vid_1035.mp4
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Transcript

NAOMI BARKER:
Well, it's been really lovely listening to you play this Schubert piece, so thank you very much. But could you tell me a little bit more about how you use the score when you're rehearsing and performing?
JEREMY YOUNG:
Yeah. That's an interesting question. What you find in most classical chamber music is that the pianist has the full score with everyone's part in it, as well as their own. But during rehearsals, most good or diligent chamber ensembles will have a score on the floor so that everyone can refer to it. And so in chamber music, there's no intellectual leader, if you like. It's a cooperative, so that everyone can see what's going on, can have their say about how you interpret the score.
NAOMI BARKER:
But how do you start and stop?
SIOBHAN DOYLE:
Well, that's usually the job of the violinist in the group, or the first violinist. So it's a combination of body language and breathing. So you need to get eye contact at the beginning to make sure that everyone is ready to play.
NAOMI BARKER:
Could you show us how you do that? Yes, that would be really great.
SIOBHAN DOYLE:
Yeah, so just the beginning of the theme.
NAOMI BARKER:
That's amazing. And then how do you end it?
SIOBHAN DOYLE:
It's the same thing really, just making sure that everyone is feeling the music together, and you can lead with your body, and with your violin, and breathe together.
NAOMI BARKER:
How do the other members of the group feel about the violin leading that?
CHRISTOPHER MANSFIELD:
I think it's amazing how much of an impact the lead can have so it's not just the tempo, or where to play, but it's also the character, and the dynamic, and the style that you're playing after the lead's been given.
NAOMI BARKER:
So the body language and the way that lead is given is really important to all of you?
CHRISTOPHER MANSFIELD:
Yeah, definitely.
NAOMI BARKER: 
OK, you've talked about starting and stopping, but it's not just about that. It's about how you keep it going. How do you keep together while you're playing?
CHRISTOPHER MANSFIELD:
Yeah, I suppose it's another interesting question. The most important thing is to keep a constant sense of the pulse. And it's perhaps, it's quite a natural thing. So perhaps, thinking about the breathing. For instance, how a choir would breathe together to sing each phrase. That will probably give the most natural phrasing. And because in a piece like this, although there obviously is a pulse, there's also a constant ebb and flow within the music. So it's really important that you're aware of what's going on around you and constantly listening so that you're in tune with that I suppose.
SIOBHAN DOYLE:
Well, it's not always just the violin who has total control. I'm not the most important person. For example, in variation one, I'm not playing for the upbeat, so there might be other instruments who have to give that lead.
NAOMI BARKER:
So it really is that cooperative, that you're all taking part in that.
JEREMY YOUNG: 
Yeah.
NAOMI BARKER: 
Do you want to maybe demonstrate that variation one? Who leads that?
JEREMY YOUNG:
I lead that.
NAOMI BARKER:
The piano leads that?
JEREMY YOUNG:
Yeah.
NAOMI BARKER:
Great. Thank you very much.
End transcript
 
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For any music that has a number of players such as a string quartet or jazz band, a full score is a means of representing all the parts together so that they can be understood in relation to each other. Each instrument has its own line, but the lines that sound simultaneously are joined by a brace and are aligned vertically to indicate their synchronicity. The written music now has two functions:

  1. the parts, which present each individual player with the single line of notation for their specific instrument
  2. the score, which represents the full sound picture of the piece.
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