3.3.3 Investigation


Once the conductor has an understanding of the background and is aware of the overall look of the score and its contents, the next step is in-depth analysis of the score. This involves the entire score being broken down into its musical components, beginning with larger structural elements and proceeding down to smaller portions, including individual phrases. For instance, if the work is a complete symphony or a large choral work with many sections, one movement at a time is selected for study. It does not necessarily have to be the first movement, but whatever portion is selected will be the primary focus.

There is no right way or wrong way to go about an analysis. In an ideal situation, you should have some familiarity with the music that you are analysing. However, that may not always be possible, for example, if you are studying a score for a first performance. The analytical process may help you to clarify your image of the musical sound but you should be careful to always try to have an overall view of the work as you progress with the analysis. Some analytical observations will occur to you as you play through the music, listen to it or scan through it: large-scale repetitions, motivic connections, points of high tension or release, structural breaks, instrumentation, textural contrasts, etc.  Deeper investigation and analytical work will slowly emerge with each stage of score study. Remember though, that if you focus too much on the deep dive analysis of the score, you might lose the overall sense of the music as it is perceived by the audience versus what is written on the page.

The Investigation is, in itself, a process of zooming in and out of small sections, going from macro to micro analysis of the different components that make up a specific piece of music and zooming out again to contextualise the micro.  In one way or another, all of these techniques look into the musical components in the score either in isolation or in relation to each other. There are several books discussing analytical techniques that can be used to explore and understand a musical work. Some of these are listed at the end of this section.

Reflection on Analysis

(Allow around 15 minutes for this activity)

Think about the components of a score which the conductor needs to understand before starting to work with a group of performers. Make a list of topics you think are relevant.


Here is my list: 

  • medium 
  • tempo, rhythm and metre 
  • melody 
  • harmony and tonality 
  • texture 
  • form and structure 
  • quality of sound  
  • dynamics  
  • text 

These topics are a sort of catalogue of components that one should try to identify in the work being analysed as a starting point to understand how the piece was put together by the composer. A checklist has been provided in the library for you to download here:

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