Finale Tips – Copyism #3: Accuracy

In previous entries I talked about speed and neatness. To recap: why prioritize those, and why in that order? Obviously they’re equally important, but in my experience, in a crunch, it’s likely going to be most important that 1) something is on the stand, so that rehearsal time isn’t wasted, next that it’s 2) neat enough so that it’s easy to read, and thus easier to pick out little mis-steps, should they occur.

Next comes accuracy: taking adequate steps beforehand and during so that it’s not necessary to have to go back and fix anything. Fixing mistakes during a 1st run-through rehearsal is a drag for everyone involved. It takes up valuable time, makes the arranger/composer look bad, hurting his/her chances of repeat hirings, and makes YOU look bad, hurting your chances of repeat work.

I’ve listed this 3rd by priority, but of any of the items on the list, this is the one that really causes me to lose sleep. I’m not a hyper-perfectionist, but I absolutely hate doing a bad job on something. It just sucks. Try as you might , little mistakes can and do happen, and I’m certainly not the only one. I’ve played show books in pits or pickup bands for well-established acts, and I’ve seen little errors here or there; it makes me feel a little more human, but anything I can do to keep even smallest boo-boo’s to a minimum, I’ll do in a heartbeat.

1. Know thyself

I heard a great quote while watching an Army instructional video once: “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”. When you’re in a stressful situation, your body pumps adrenaline to ensure that you’re functioning in overdrive, or close to 100%. I would say “110%”, but that’s impossible, I don’t care what any NFL coach or deodorant ad says. When you’re “adrenalized”, your body and all its functions will seem to speed up, so you must learn to relax yourself, and let that adrenaline do the work for you. You have to find or know the point at which you can work at your fastest, and then slow yourself down to the point about 5-10% below that; that’s your “sweet spot”. The idea is to get the same results as going as fast as you can, only without the stress, so you’ll decrease the likelihood of mistakes.

2. Check, re-check, and re-check again

Proof-reading your own work is absolutely vital. Always check your work unless you absolutely can’t. The only time I’ve ever had skip checking it over is when I’ve had absolutely no time, but it’s very rare. Even if you’re in a rush, going page by page, it just takes a second to do a quick visual scan, then you can take a fine-toothed comb to it later, time permitting. If you have time and resources to do so, enlist a friend to help. Fresh eyes always catch little things you wouldn’t have thought of.

3. Don’t trust your eyes – use midi playback

I resisted using midi playback for the longest time because my composer/arranger-brain was saying “midi gives you a false sense of orchestral color”, but it’s extremely helpful with catching little mistakes. My recommendation is to mute any un-pitched percussion (since the playback will be kind of weird anyway) check full tutti sections. After that, time permitting, isolate sections (eg. strings only, winds only, etc.) and check those. Play with the tempi as well: take it a little faster than indicated to save time, slow it down in notey passages to check notes in a run.

4. Now that you’ve got the notes, check the other stuff

You can never do enough note-checking, but there comes a point of diminishing returns. In those situations, it’s alarmingly easy to miss other equally important things, like dynamics and articulations, especially when you’ve spent majority of your time down in the weeds with the notes. Even the briefest glance can catch the funniest little things. For example, the other day I had printed a full set of parts to pdf only to realize I had misspelled the title “HAPPY BRITHDAY”. Sheesh, what a rookie mistake. It happens, but I caught it!

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.