Reporting Musical Decisions and General Score Analysis

Data Collection: Part 2

Directions for reporting musical decisions, structure, performance cues, and any other type of score analysis:

To be read after a piece has been learned and performed.


During the course of learning a new piece a musician must think about and make decisions about many different aspects of a piece of music (Chaffin, Imreh & Crawford, 2002). We are going to ask you about the decisions you made for the piece you learned. We will ask about one aspect or dimension of the piece at a time to make your task more manageable. The goal is to find out how you understand and think about the piece. So if, at any time, the instructions do not make sense to you or if you feel that you have more to add that is not covered by our framework, please be sure to discuss your ideas with the investigator you are working with or email us. We will begin with an overview. Then we will give step-by-step instructions. We suggest that you do not try to complete the all the different steps in a single session. Do the reports a few at a time and come to each part fresh so that your reports will be as accurate and detailed as possible. You will be relating the information you provide to what you did during practice, so you need to think about the music with the same attention to detail that you gave when you were practicing.


We will ask you for three types of information: the musical structure of the piece (how you divide it up into sections), the features of the music that you thought about during practice, and what you think about during performance. There are no right or wrong answers. What is important here is how you think about the music, not how some music theorist or teacher might see it. Musical structure. Where are the main divisions and subdivisions of the piece? You may divide it on the basis of themes, harmony, layout of the score by lines and pages, some combination of these, or some other way. However you divide it up, that is the structure for you.

Practice. When learning a piece you make many decisions about how to play it. We will divide these into technique, interpretation, and expression.

Basic technique. Just in order to play the notes, you have to make basic decisions about technique. Depending on your instrument these may include: fingering, bowing, breath, intonation, hand position, pedaling. For any instrument there are likely to be some technical problems (e.g., jumps).

Interpretation. Decisions about interpretation provide musical shape to the notes through phrasing, dynamics, tempo and articulation. Depending on your instrument you may also think about other aspects such as timbre, intonation, and color.

Expression. Your decisions about technique and interpretation were probably guided by the kind of musical feelings that you wanted to evoke. If you thought about this during practice, then you will have expressive decisions to report as well. If you did not think about expression, that is okay. Expression often happens automatically, without thinking about it. Performance. As you practice, the implementation of these basic, interpretive, and expressive decisions becomes automatic so that when you perform the piece you no longer have to think about them consciously. But there are probably some features that you do still think about during performance. We call these performance cues (PC’s). PC’s are those things in the music that you regularly think about while playing. We will say more about how to identify and report PC’s below.

We will now explain how to mark your reports features on the score.

Doing the reports

For each type of musical feature or PC that you report, mark its location in a copy of the score with an arrow. It is probably best to use a pencil, at least to start with, so that you can change things. If you have more than one type of report on the same copy of the score, go over the arrows in colored ink once you are satisfied with your report (see below).

Put different types of report on different copies of the score. How many different copies of the score you will need depends on how detailed your reports are. We suggest using at least five: Structure, basic technique, difficulty, interpretation + expression, and PC’s. You may want to use more. For example if you have a lot of fingering decisions and technical difficulties to report, then put them on different copies. Avoid having one page so full of marks that you get confused or we cannot read it.

Clearly label each copy and date it. This is very important. When you put more than one type of report on the same copy, then please color code them using different colored markers for the different types, e.g., red for fingering, blue for technical difficulties. Do them in pencil first, then go over them in color when you are sure of them. Write down the key to your color coding at the top of the score.

Musical structure

Boundaries: Mark the beginning of each section. If you subdivide these into sub-sections (and sub-sub-sections), mark these as well using a different color for each level. If you distinguish different types of divisions (e.g. harmonic vs melodic) color code those as well.

Switches: A switch is a place where you are likely to get confused between two different places in the music that are similar to each other, e.g. a note that suddenly takes you to a different part of the piece. Repetition is common in music and can be a source of confusion for the performer. The switch is the note where two repetitions begin to diverge. So, switches come in pairs. Sometimes, in three’s or even fours.

Mark any switches that you are aware of in the piece. As always, report what you see in the music. If you don’t feel that there is any risk of confusing two passages, then it is not a switch for you, even if they are similar. As you do this task, you may notice potential switches in the piece that you were not aware of before. Do not mark these. They were not part of the way you thought of the piece when you performed it. Just mark the switches that you knew about when you performed.

Difficulty Rating

Think about each measure and give it an overall rating for technical difficulty (1 = easy to 10=extremely difficulty).

Basic technique

Different instruments require different techniques. The following are some aspects of technique that apply to many instruments. You decide what aspects of technique you thought about. Report those that apply to you. If there are other aspects of technique that apply to you, that are not listed, report those as well.

Fingering. Mark each note whose fingering was the result of a deliberate decision or that needed attention during practice. Mark the first note of the fingering pattern. For many notes the fingerings are fairly automatic because they are part of standard fingering patterns. If you simply used a standard fingering without seriously considering any other alternatives, then do not mark it. If you used a standard fingering, but thought about other possible fingerings, then you made a decision and should mark it. If you devised a fingering that does not sit naturally under the fingers, then mark each note that you had to think about as you were learning it.

You may need to mark a very large number of decisions, or only a few. Either way is okay. What is important is that you mark as accurately as you can the fingerings that you thought about and made decisions about during practice.

Technical difficulties are places that are particularly vulnerable to error because the movements required are awkward or difficult for some reason. For example, perhaps the movements are particularly fast, or involve a large leap. Mark all the places you had to work on or pay particular attention to during practice for this kind of reason. Some of these difficulties you may have created for yourself because of interpretive decisions you made. So long as they were technical difficulties that you had to cope with in practice you should report them here, whatever their source.

Other aspects: String players may need to think about bowing, hand position, and shifting strings. Wind players may need to thinking about breathing. Singers also may need to think about breathing, along with pronunciation and stress. In music for ensemble for performance, you may need to think about entrances, coming off together, and cues from the other musicians.

Interpretive Dimensions

Attention to at least four aspects of interpretation is normally required to produce a musically sensitive rendition: phrasing, articulation, dynamics, tempo. They are closely related and you may feel that you do not need to distinguish between all of them, e.g., you might combine articulation and dynamics. Depending on your instrument you may think about other aspects of interpretation as well as or instead of one or more of the above, such as pedaling, timbre, intonation, color, and (for singers) word meaning.

Performance Cues (PCs)

In learning a piece for performance, you think about many different details of the music, making many decisions about how you are going to play the piece. In performance, you don’t think about most of these details. They have become automatic with practice. If the piece is really well learned, you might even be able to play it through from start to finish without ever thinking about a single thing. But it would be dangerous to do that in a performance. Instead, you probably think about particular landmarks in the music – places that are important in your musical image of the piece and help you keep track of where you are. These are your performance cues (PC’s). PC’s are those things in the music that you think about while performing.

PC’s can refer to any of the different aspects of the music described above: Structure, basic technique, interpretation, or expression. You may have PCs for any or all of these different aspects. Or, if you normally play automatically without thinking, you may have only one PC, at the beginning. For some pieces you may have a lot of PCs, while for others you may have hardly any. PC’s are very personal and only you can decide what PCs you use.

PCs are those special places where we want to do something mindfully. The way that musicians deal with most problems is to practice them until they become automatic and the problem goes away. These places are not PCs. PCs are place where we do not rely entirely on doing it automatically. There are a variety of reasons for setting up PCs. Sometime we are not sure that doing it automatically will work. Or we may want to monitor our playing to check that things are going according to plan. Or we have found that thinking a particular thought helps to produce a particular musical effect that we want.

Every performance is a little different. Some things you may think about in every performance. These are definitely PC’s. Others you may think of in some performances, but not others. Most of these are probably PC’s as well. Random thoughts that occur in one performance, but never again, are not PC’s. PC’s are always thoughts about the piece that you have had before, during practice and usually during previous performances as well. During practice, you tried out using these thoughts to help you perform the piece the way that you want and you found that they worked. While you may not be accustomed to isolating and naming them, they are not new to you. You have had them many times before in the course of preparing the piece.

Some PCs you may never think about during a real performance. You may only have thought about them during practice. For example, if there is a place where you know that there is a danger of making a mistake and you have practiced how you will recover, then you have a PC. The PC is your recovery plan. This is different from practicing the difficulty until it becomes automatic. If you are relying on automaticity, then you are hoping for the best. If things do go wrong, you will have to improvise. On the other hand, if you have a PC, then when things go wrong, you already know how you are going to fix it. So, you have a PC, even if you never actually make that mistake and have to use it during a performance. If you have prepared yourself to deal something during performance, then you have a PC.

It is very likely that you are not fully aware of all of the PC’s that you use. You may need to perform the piece again and examine your thoughts as you do so before completing your report. It is okay to do this as often as you feel it is necessary while you are completing your reports. You may want to play individual passages or the whole piece, once or many times, whatever will help you to provide the most accurate report that you can.

You can have more than one type of cue at the same place. For example, if you are a pianist and you think at a particular place (1st finger, forte, climax), then you are thinking about three different aspects of the music at the same time: technique (1st finger), interpretation (forte), and expression (climax). Mark these as three separate PC’s. On the other hand, if you just think “climax” and you always leave the forte and the fingering to occur automatically, then just mark an expressive PC. If you sometimes think “climax”, then mark and expressive PC. If you sometimes think “forte”, then mark an interpretive PC. If you sometimes think “1st finger”, then mark a PC for technique. Having multiple PC’s like this allows you to cope with bad days when you have to struggle to keep the performance on track, at the same time as allowing you to make the most of the good days when the music just flows.

Please divide your reports PCs into at least four different types: structure, basic, interpretive, and expressive. Depending how many of each type you have, mark them on separate copies of the score or on the same copy. If you put more than one kind on the same copy, be sure to color code them. If it makes sense to you, make finer distinctions within these broad categories, e.g., between fingering and technical difficulties, or between phrasing and dynamics. If you make additional distinctions, please mark each one in a different color. If you run out of colors, use pairs of colors.