Thursday, May 10, 2018

Pedagogical Tools for Score Reading

One of the most useful reading skills for working pianists can also be the most terrifying. Billie Whittaker in Good Company talks about the basics of score-reading and some pedagogical concepts behind it. She also references Brenda Wristen's Pedagogical tools for preparing and performing open scores and the large number of scores available on ChoralWiki. Billie's 7 Habits of Highly Effective Score Preparers is very useful for those starting out with the skill. Here they are in a paraphrased form:
  • identify unisons
  • write in functional or root/quality chord symbols
  • use arrows
  • write numbers between staves
  • group pitches in one hand on the score
  • use brackets to indicate similar repeated intervals or chords
  • identify voice crossings
In particular, I've found that writing functional or root/quality chord symbols is a simple but useful way of keeping your harmonic grounding in a sea of clefs.

Tackling the legendary Advanced Keyboard Skills class at Eastman was my first foray into score reading. The book that we used to learn the basics of the skill was Morris and Ferguson's Preparatory Exercises in Score Reading. The C clef exercises in particular were a game changer for us once we got the hang of the reading skills. For the course's final exam, we had to play the Exposition of Mozart's Magic Flute Overture from full score.

Little did I know just how useful the skill would be over the coming years, especially once I got into the new opera field. On many occasions during the workshop process, the only score available was the full one, which made score-reading skills absolutely essential.

How have you used score-reading superpowers in the profession? Leave a comment and tell us your stories!


  1. Last fall while working with a choral ensemble at my university I had to read an open-score USAF band arrangement of a patriotic medley. There wasn't a reduction, and there wasn't any time for me to throw everything into Finale and make one, so I just had to do it. In the end it was quite a fulfilling experience, and I felt much more able to reproduce the colors of the original than I would have in a piano reduction.

  2. One way to improve the piano playing is to play without notation. In other words, just rely on hearing. Try playing songs that are familiar without any notation also add harmony according to taste. By practicing like this, the more days we will play better when viewing the notation. The hand will be better prepared and deftly pressing the keys even if the eyes do not see it.

  3. Susan Bruckner11:46 AM

    I used R.O. Morris at Eastman also. I developed a 4 line staff to challenge readers and transfer students who don't read intervallically yet. The first note is tonic of whatever key you choose (no written key sigs) and I never call the first space F or A so it really forces intervallic reading. I also use it for college students who are not pianists but learning piano.