One of my favorite ways to provide a visual reminder for what I’d like to prioritize is using highlighter tape. When I was younger, I used it to mark difficult passages that needed more attention in my practice. I loved it because, when I felt like I had sufficiently addressed any issues, the tape was removable and I could clear my score without damaging it! I also found that I could write on it in pencil so it didn’t hinder my usage of the score in any way. As I began studying my first solo Bach fugue, I used the tape to highlight the fugue subject or fragments of it. By drawing my attention to it visually, I was able to prioritize bringing it to the foreground of the texture when it was buried within chords (hey look, I’m talking about voicing again in solo Bach…go figure!). More recently, I’ve been using it while re-visiting the Chaconne from the d minor partita. The treatment D-C#-D motion in cadential progressions is fascinating to me and often the most interesting voice to my taste. The pitch I most associated with consonance and release reaches the height of tension in these progressions such that the leading tone is heard as relief to it. So, to make sure I draw the ear toward this progression throughout the piece, I’ve marked them all with highlighter tape so I know what I want to bring to the foreground.
It’s all too easy to become overly cerebral with these exercises and get so caught up in the detail that the musicality becomes lost. However, I’ve found that by looking this closely at the score away from my instrument, I’m left with a clearer understanding of the musical inflection I want to craft. Side note: I need to give a huge shoutout to the Parker Quartet for talking about “inflecting” phrases during their masterclass for the University of Iowa String Quartet Residency Program on Monday- I’ve been mulling over how perfect that term is for what we do ever since then and I’m so grateful for the inspiration. By focusing on these details, I’m often led to larger-scale musical questions. Here are some examples:
1. How does the register of the fugue subject and the key area its in influence the character?
2. In what ways do the qualities I associate with the strings of my particular violin inflect the general character of a passage?
3. How does the texture of a particular passage influence my dynamic level?
My answers to these and other questions directly guide my inflections on a piece. When I approach the piece with my violin again after taking the time to study it in one (or more) of these ways, my inflection on the piece is much more clear. Rather than fighting the score, I’m working with it for a more nuanced performance.
What are some ways studying scores has benefited your practice? What are some techniques you use? Composers, do you leave any “easter eggs” in your music for discerning performers to find, or are they subconsciously placed? Please share in the comments section!