Casting a critical eye (and ear) on your score

We all tend to – ok, that might be a broad and sweeping generalisation – but a considerable number of guitarists I know (myself included oftentimes) tend to really rely quite heavily on what is written on our musical scores.

La boheme hand written score
Skull and cross bones? Interpret that! La boheme hand written score (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The thought process probably goes something along the lines of…”well the composer wrote that so it must definitely be what he means and I must stick religiously to it” or “this arranger must know their eggs to (a) be arranging in the first place and (b) have it published; it must be right” or “it is written, therefore I must play it” (which then perhaps may lead one conversely to think “nothing is written, I must play with no dynamics….“).

Am I right?


And that’s also kind of the point of what I’m saying here.

Just because something has been written on the page does not necessarily mean it is right. It doesn’t necessarily mean its wrong either. Confused much?! Let me give an interesting case in point here to illustrate what I’m yabbering on about.

It was recently brought to my attention by one of my students (you know who you are!) a note in a piece that I previously had thought and been playing for a number of years as an A natural was in fact in the score an A# that hadn’t been naturalised within the same bar (and yes, it’s always marvellous to have students pick these things up a it means I’m doing my job and teaches me to pay heed to my own lessons!). It’s the Prelude of John Duarte’s English Suite towards the end of bar 7 for you spotters out there.

Harmonically, it sounds a little ‘interesting’ if one takes it as literal and written with the A#. But it’s not entirely out of context with the piece – there certainly are some interesting little harmonic tidbits and turns, so not entirely out of place. The A natural, on the other hand, does make more traditional harmonic sense, which is why my brain “saw” and heard it as such and has been playing it that way for some time now. This is also probably why a number of big name guitarists also play it that way, Segovia and Antigoni Goni included.

But just because I play it like that, and just because the big cheeses play it like that does not make it correct necessarily.

It’s the same with dynamics and other musical directions that may (or may not) be written on the score.

Play whatever it is you want to play with heartfelt intention, like you really wanted to play it and in the way you wanted to play it and you’ll have me convinced it’s right. And so that’s what this student of mine did. He decided “yes, the A# is the note for me and I’m going to play it like so..

Let’s put this another way. As musicians we need to be good scientists. And what do good scientists do?

They question.

They don’t accept the status quo without asking why it exists. They don’t accept an answer as a given. They seek to understand. To truly get to the heart of something. It’s about seeking meaning and understanding. It’s about your intention and meaning behind your action. Yes, even one little note.

Question it. Ask yourself “Is it supposed to by X or is it supposed to be Y or Z even? I don’t know, but I’d like to play it as X. I like X!

So go forth fellow guitarists and musicians, apply a critical eye and ear and become excellent scientists with your scores!


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