8 Steps to Preparing a Conductor’s Score for Worship Band, Orchestra and Choir

Modern worship music often includes not only the parts for the worship band (guitars, drums, bass, keyboards and vocals), but also parts for four-part (or more) choir singers and full orchestra. The score that contains all these parts is often called a “conductor’s score” or more simply called “the score” since it contains all the parts of a given musical work in one score.

In order to help all the musicians stay together throughout such a composition, the modern church music or worship director must learn to read, interpret and conduct from such a score. I have seen some directors who ignore the score and attempt to direct without it by using their gifted “ear,” memory, or some other intuitive sense, but it usually results in frustration of the instrumentalists or singers because the director does not know exactly what they should be doing at any given moment and cannot answer their questions.

What is a conductor’s score?

  • A score that contains all the parts for the instruments and vocals of a particular musical work
  • Sometimes, it is a reproduction of the original score as written by the composer
  • Often, it is a reproduction of the score as arranged and orchestrated by the arranger or orchestrator
  • Finally, it is the master score from which all the individual parts are extracted to create individual scores from which the musicians play and sing

What does the conductor’s score do?

  • It tells the director/conductor of a musical work what each instrumentalist and vocalist should be doing at any given moment in the music

Why is it important for the director to “prepare the score” or “mark” the score ahead of time?

  • By marking the score, ahead of time, in larger handwritten notes, the director can see at a glance what individual parts and whole groups of musicians should be doing in the music
  • Often, conductor’s scores are in very small print to get all the parts on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper that fits on a standard music stand
  • And often, when directing a large group, the conductor’s eyes are well above the score which is placed on a music stand at about waist level
  • Thus, while conducting, the director cannot see the detail of every part from such a distance
  • Therefore, by making larger handwritten notes, the director can see which groups of singers or instrumentalists should be playing or singing, and can cue them at the precise moments of entrance or release

A method for marking the conductor’s/director’s score:

  • There are many ways to mark the score. Following is a method I was taught and have adapted and used for many years:
  • Use the following tools to do the marking:
  • 1. Use highlighting multi-colored markers, like those used to highlight textbooks for marking things you want to notice but not cover up.
  • 2. Use colored pencils for writing words on the score. If not colored pencils, use something that stands out from the other words written on the score. If the words already on the score are typed, handwritten notes, even with a pen, work fine because they are usually not as neat as those that are typed, and they are usually larger.

1. HIGHLIGHT THE REPEATS: I use orange highlighter for this. Run the highligher from the top to the bottom of the score at the beginning and end of a repeated section. I also add brackets at the top and bottom to indicate which direction (right or left) the repeat is headed.
2. HIGHLIGHT THE KEY CHANGES: I use green highlighter for this because green means “go” to me, and a key change often is used to give the song a boost. Run the highlighter from top to bottom of the score since all the parts usually change key together.
3. HIGHLIGHT THE TIME SIGNATURE CHANGES: I use blue highlighter for this. Run the highlighter from top to bottom of the score over the new time signature. Often, the time signature will change back to the original shortly, so mark each change.
4. HIGHLIGHT THE VOLUME CHANGES: I use pink highlighter for this. Mark the crescendos and decrescendos that appear in the score. Often, these will be found on several lines of the score. I mark one of the lines about 1/3 of the way down from the top where it’s easy to see.
5. HIGLIGHT THE TEMPO CHANGES: I use yellow highlighter for this. Highlight the intial tempo marking (e.g., 80 bmp, allegro, etc) and later tempo changes (e.g., ritardando, a tempo, etc.). Usually, these appear at the top of the score.
6. MARK THE ENTRANCES: I use colored pencils or a pen to mark these. Everytime an instrumental or vocal part enters (e.g., Violin, Timpani, Horn), write the name of the part just to the left of it, so you’ll notice it and can cue the entrance with a hand gesture or a look in their direction. If it’s a whole section or group entering (e.g., all brass, all voices, all strings), I draw a left bracket connecting the scores of all those parts (e.g., all brass might include separate parts for 1,2 trumpets, 3 trumpet, 1,2 trombone and 3 trombone, tuba). After bracketing all the individual scores, write “Brass” to the left of the brackett. I use a shorthand notation for many of the parts (Violin is Vln, Brass is Brs, Timpani is Tmp, Woodwinds is WW, etc.) because there’s not a lot of room on the page. Sometimes, an entrance comes just after the page turn on the score. I mark the entrance at the appropriate place at the far right side on the previous page, before the page turn, so I’ll know an entrance is coming up immediately after the page turn.
7. REWRITE IMPORTANT WORDS ON THE SCORE: Sometimes the Rhythm line of the score has notations (words in very small print) for multiple parts (acoustic and electric guitars, drum set, electric bass and keyboards). For example, one notation from a score in front of me has “E.G. distort riff, busy HH + BD quarters” in very small print below the Rhythm line. I wrote this out by hand in larger print so I’d know what the electric guitar, high hat and bass drum should be doing at that point.
8. ADD NOTATIONS FOR OTHER PARTS NOT INCLUDED ON THE SCORE. Sometimes, the band is playing from a chord chart that is not included on the conductor’s score. It may not have the same rehearsal numbers or measure numbers as the other parts extracted from the conductor’s score. The director must ADD notes to the score to indicate what they are seeing on their score (e.g., Intro, Verse 1, Verse 2, PreChorus, Chorus, Bridge, Instrumental Interlude, Tag, Ending, Outro). In so doing, the director knows what everyone is seeing on their score and can call out simultaneous cues for multiple groups as needed (e.g., “Rehearsal #2 and Chorus” or “Measure 37 and Bridge”).
By using these methods and other adaptations, the director can rehearse and direct large and diverse groups of musicians simultaneously, seeing at a glance where the music is going and cueing entrances for individuals and whole sections of the ensemble to provide a satisfying musical experience for everyone involved. Enjoy, and to God be the glory!

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