A few months ago, I joined a few piano teachers’ groups on Facebook. They have been a great source of teaching inspiration and have reminded me how many differences there are within our ranks as music teachers, even with teachers of great experience. A recent discussion has again sparked my interest in that basic teaching tool: the score and how we mark it to help our students succeed.
A score from a transfer student was posted: every fingering was marked as well as numerous note names. The score was cluttered with many section numbers, reminders and colors. The teacher sharing the score said that she prefers a cleaner score, with a student translating the necessary information from that mostly clean score, then asked the opinion of the group.
Here are some of the varying practices of the group:
1. Pencil only so they can erase scores before they send their students to an adjudication or competition.
2. Colored pencils or pens with a different color each week so it is clear what details were covered in the most recent lesson. Most of these teachers also advocate copying music before beginning study on it so that the copy is the one covered in color and the original score remains clean for judging purposes.
3. Eraseable colored pens so that both purposes of 1 and 2 can be achieved (i.e., colored to make notes more evident, but erasable for later so the score isn’t as cluttered.)
4. Different types of office supplies to help keep the score clean: Post-It tape so that the notes are removed when the problem areas are addressed, highlighter tape for the same thing with more impact, removable red dots for specific problem areas.
5. Students mark important details themselves, often before study begins.
6. Important fingerings marked, as well as articulation, dynamics, phrasing indications, chord symbols, section numbers.
7. No teacher approved of every finger number marked in a score. The only note names that were agreed to be acceptable to be marked are notes that are continually missed or tricky ledger line notes. (I will admit that when I had an assigned amount of organ practice to do in college along with my piano practice, and when there were no organs available, I often sat in the hall and wrote every single fingering and pedaling into my score to count it as practicing. That was my almost-one-and-only stint of fingering every note, but I found it helpful enough that I tried applying the principle to the Bach Partita I was learning on piano and loved the exactness I felt as I worked through each measure so carefully.)
8. Something important to note for teachers of students entering festivals or competitions: none of us as adjudicators preferred a marked score from students. The rule should be clean copies only for judges, unless you would like the judges to immediately zero in on the offensive sections and be looking for the problem during performance.
I was interested that so many of the teachers in the pencil-only camp were quite passionate about their dislike for cluttered scores. As a student of many teachers who marked my scores with colored abandon, I must admit to a certain affection for those teachers and those lessons when I return to my multi-colored pages from years past (the picture at the beginning of this post is one page from college.) I never imagined that so many people would consider these rainbowed scores to be inconsiderate or offensive! Many teachers in the group mentioned a similar affection for their scores from previous study, especially when marked with effective fingering and inspired instructions. I now have more respect for the other viewpoint as well, but I think I am set in my bright and colorful ways.
What are your score marking principles? What are your students responsible for marking? (Mine are supposed to mark section numbers, important fingerings, and in a perfect world, chord symbols.) What are your most common markings? (Mine are a phrase tapering mark, fingering, chord symbols, and articulation. And lots of rainbow circles around dynamics, etc.)