PlayScore 2 is an app for string quartets that augments the paper score with a magic active score that can not only play the music, but that you can use to practice and to learn how the music and the ensemble fits together.
Most music notation apps either
1) Display music so the music as a substitute for a music stand, or
2) can play the music too, but from a specific collection of pieces for sale that have had the audio added by hand by the manufacturer.
A specific pre-defined collection of music, however large can only be of limited use. The number of works composed over 3 centuries is so vast that if you are not looking for Fur Elise, the piece you want is unlikely to be there. And even if it is it is probably in the wrong edition and won’t match the parts others are using.
PlayScore 2 sets out to solve this problem, and at the same time provide a wealth of features designed to make private practice and rehearsal more rewarding and more productive.
Play and analyse any score
With PlayScore 2 you can photograph any music, or download any (good quality) score and hear it play in seconds. You can assign the right instruments to the parts or (and this can be revealing) see how a Mozart quartet sounds for another ensemble like wind band. You can isolate parts to play in any combination. You can move freely around the score and even create a loop to study a particular section.
Rehearsals and private practice
Vital as it is, anyone who plays in a string quartet knows the limitations of practicing on one’s own. An ensemble session is always going to be partly about familiarising each player with their part in the context of the whole piece. This is to some extent unavoidable, but it will inevitably take time away from other things.
Different quartets have different aims. Some people just want to make music together and have fun, others are keen to work on ensemble, expression, articulation, all the things that make music more enjoyable to play, and more enjoyable for others to listen to.
Whatever kind of musician you are, unless you are at the professional level – and maybe even if you are, the ability to play with a whole ensemble, even when practicing on your own adds a new dimension to private practice.
Music minus one
Years ago you could buy ‘Music minus one’ recordings: well-known pieces recorded without the soloist, allowing you to play your concerto or sing your aria with an orchestra in your own living room. Inevitably these recordings, though useful could never cater for more than a minority. The selection of works could only be comparatively small, and the recordings tended to be aimed at soloists.
But now, what was always a sound concept can be applied to any music, and any part or parts within the music. If you have an iPhone or an iPad you can download PlayScore 2, photograph or download a score and hear it play in seconds. PlayScore 2 lets you select exactly which part or parts are played, at what relative volume, and with what instruments. It can even transpose the music so that it will play in any key.
Practicing your part to an accompaniment
One way of using PlayScore 2 is to turn down your part but turn up the others, allowing you to fill in the missing part. Because PlayScore 2 is very accurate and follows dynamics and articulation, the effect is very realistic. This is a great way to learn and a great app for string quartets.
Know your score
But this is not the only thing you can do. PlayScore 2 gives you a great way to study a score. By isolating different combinations of parts you can listen to say just the inner voices. You can experiment with different tempi and balance. You can also jump to any place in the score just by scrolling there and tapping. You can even create a loop by dragging your finger over specific measures.
It is always useful to have a score to hand at an ensemble session. With PlayScore 2 on an iPad or iPhone you have a magic score with which you can dissect the music and examine every detail audibly as well as visually. Using PlayScore 2 you can see exactly what should be happening at a particular point, and see exactly how the ensemble fits together.
Although the string quartet repertoire is highly varied, from Haydn and Mozart, through Beethoven to the romantics, and moderns, the string quartet is always a highly expressive medium. It is for the string quartet that the great composers reserve their most intermate utterances. In string quartet music ensemble and expression are heightened. There is so much more to string quartet playing than simply playing your part.
In every aspect of practice and rehearsal, PlayScore 2 can add a new dimension. Let’s look at some of the main aspects
Even string quartet players have problems reading sometimes. You are preparing for a quartet session but you are not sure of some tricky rhythm. With PlayScore 2 you can simply tap on the bar and hear it played correctly; just your part of with the others.
PlayScore 2 plays in equal temperament, and we all know that string players don’t. But it can be very useful all the same to have PlayScore 2 play your part with you to check intonation. After all equal temperament is not wrong and this can reveal things about your playing you weren’t aware of.
If you are not a cellist it can be incredibly revealing to play against the cello only. In many ways the cello is in charge of intonation, indeed at one time the cello was more often the quartet leader than it is today. The cellist is the one laying down the bass, the part in relation to which all others must judge their pitch. Try this with PlayScore 2. I guarantee you will discover things you didn’t know – and that you are glad you did discover.
There are passages in quartet music where an idea is shared between two or more parts, or where parts dovetail. Take bars 13 and 14 of K.421 in D minor.
Here a motif passes through each part from violin I down to cello. It is vital for the music flow steadily without bumps or interruptions as it would if played by a single instrument. This is the sort of passage that simply cannot be practiced adequately on one’s own. But with PlayScore 2 it is easy. Set the app to play all parts except your own, and drag your finger over measures 11, 12 and 13 to create a loop. Now every time your entry comes round, practice following on perfectly with whoever is before you.
Knowing what the other parts are doing
A fault that most of us have to some extent is of insufficient awareness of the whole music. This is understandable: there is a lot to occupy one just in playing ones own part well. But it is vital to know what is going on in every part, and this applies especially to the medium of the string quartet. The ability of PlayScore 2 to play the other parts while you practice yours allows you to hear the other parts in relation to your own and in relation to each other. This saves time in rehearsal where you probably want to concentrate on those matters of interpretation and expression that can only be done with the other players.
Being in control of the tempo
String quartet music is so expressive and so varied that it can be quite difficult to keep control of tempo. Are you speeding up in quiet sections? Are you slowing down in passages of technical difficulty, or where there is a lot going on? A metronome can tell you this of course. But it is so much more informative in such a passage to have the discipline of playing against one other part that you know is steady. That is not to say of course that music can not sometimes speed up or slow down, even when not marked by the composer. But it is always better to know than not to know.
Creating arrangements and extracting parts
PlayScore 2 is not limited just to playing a score or a part. Because PlayScore 2 can export as MusicXML, you can open your score in any score editor program such Finale, MuseScore, Sibelius or Dorico. From there you can arrange, transpose and orchestrate, but without the time consuming chore of entering the notes.
PlayScore 2 can be downloaded free from the App Store. You can use basic features free, for example you can play solo and 2-staff music. Premium features are available by annual or monthly subscription.
Watch our “Playing IMSLP Scores” and “Learning a Violin Part” videos