Piano Reduction –
Following my last post, I received an overwhelming response from composers emailing me to ask about specific voicings and scenarios that may fall outside of the common SATB voicing. So, I figured I would offer a second post that addresses some of these scenarios.
A Review: Six Rules for Piano Reductions
First, here is a reminder of the six basic rules that I follow when creating a piano reduction:
1. Don’t consider it – do it.
2. Know what to omit.
3. Keep the melody and the bass parts.
4. Maintain the vertical harmonies.
5. Always maintain the rhythmic integrity, but…
6. …Know what is idiomatic for the piano.
Non-SATB Scenarios: SSAA, TTBB, etc.
- Notes split between staves so the pianist can read from a grand staff (treble and bass clefs)
- All notes condensed into one stave (bass clef for TTBB, and treble for SSAA)
For Example: SSAA
Based upon our options, a reduction could look like one of the following:
ONE STAVE (Treble Clef)
TWO STAVES (Grand Staff)
*Note that the following is omitted in both reductions:
- Slurs for melismas
- dynamics above the score
- lyrics – the (good) conductor should always refer to measure numbers)
- unison notes
- effects such as glissandi, vocal percussion, etc. Though not included in this score, these occur frequently in new works and should not be included for the pianist.
*Note that the following is maintained in both reductions:
- dynamics, located in standard position for piano scores
- tempo indicators
*This secondary set of rules can and should be applied to TB, TTB, etc. scores.
So, which should I create?
Though it could be argued that matter of preference could determine which to use, I definitely advocate for ONE STAVE in this scenario.
- It provides exact pitches for the singers, not at octave displacement
- It is much clearer to read and enables the pianist to focus solely upon the treble clef for quick reading
- It avoids bass clef ledger lines, which are commonly misread by many, even accomplished, pianists
In addition to the Six Basic Rules for all piano reductions, and the omissions and maintained elements seen above, take into consideration the following:
- Range: which version creates excessive ledger lines?
- Number of voices: the more voices, the more congested the reduction can be
- Rhythmic makeup: depending on the piece, intricate polyphony may be challenging to present in a useful reduction. A fugue? You bet – easy. Half of the ensemble singing homophony while the other half is singing polyrhythms? That may require some accommodations, octave displacement or a predominance of one rhythm over another.
I’d love to hear from you – composers, pianists, and conductors alike. What are you seeing and finding effective?
P.S. I’d love to suggest to dictionary.com that their definition might change, omitting the ‘two staves’ qualifier.