How to Excel at Score Reading
The type of questions that come up in the grade 7 ABRSM score reading sections (questions 4 and 5 in the exam paper) are ones that you can normally prepare well for. Certain topics nearly always come up (e.g. transposing horn parts), so the best way to improve and ensure that you are fully prepared for the exam is to do as much practice as possible.
Apart from this course, you can practice in the following ways:
- Active listening with a score
- Use the ABRSM grade 7 Workbook
- Use the ABRSM past exam papers and model answers
Active Listening with a Score
The absolute best method to getting good at finding your way around a score and learning about all the terms and symbols found within them, is to look at lots of them!
The amazing website www.imslp.org contains an enormous database of copyright-free “classical” music scores and audio recordings which you can use free of charge (you can donate too though).
Try this method on a regular basis (two to three times a week is a good plan).
- Choose an era to focus on: Baroque, Classical, Romantic or Modern.
- Go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_classical_music_composers_by_era and select a composer – it could be a famous one, or obscure – it’s up to you.
- Go to www.imslp.org and search for the composer’s name, and pick a random score to open.
- Either use the available audio on imslp.org, or visit www.youtube.com and search for a recording of the piece you chose. Some Youtube videos even show moving scores – try putting “score” in the search terms to find these.
- Listen to the music while you follow the score. Make notes about:
- The instruments used
- The texture (thick or sparse…)
- The harmony (traditional, exotic…)
- The performance directions (few or many…)
- How the composer achieves certain effects (drama, mood change…)
- What your overall impression of the piece is
- Similarities and differences as the music progresses
- Write down any terms or symbols that are in the score, which are unfamiliar to you. Look them up and learn them. (Ask MyMusicTheory if you can’t find the answer!)
- Choose three or four bars that you like the sound of, or that are particularly interesting, and copy them out. Either do it by hand, or with a music notation software (www.musescore.org is free and excellent). You will discover quite a lot about the music by doing this, which you didn’t notice just by looking at it! Play through the individual parts, and combinations of parts.
- See if you can work out the key and harmony of the extract you copied. Test yourself on some intervals between instruments. Try to describe in words what the music sounds like. Transpose parts into concert pitch where possible.
- Research the piece on the internet. Try searching for “programme notes” plus the name of the piece, for more in depth descriptions and a historical/analytical perspective.
Each year the ABRSM publishes past papers of the previous years’ exams. It’s essential to work through a good selection of these, so that you know what to expect on the day. The answers are available as separate booklets.
All ABRSM publications can be purchased directly from their shop which can be found at www.shop.abrsm.org. Alternatively, you can also find their resources (including second hand copies) on Amazon. It’s always worth checking Ebay too, as many people get rid of their resources once they have taken the exam!