The Art of the (Piano) Reduction – Part 2

Piano Reduction – noun

‘A musical score having the parts condensed or simplified… 

{in two staves???} to render the music playable on the piano by one person.’

dictionary.com

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.

Both TTBB and SSAA scores often create more challenges in making a useful reduction due to the range of pitches determined by the voices of the singers.
Reductions for these voicings can be accomplished in two ways:
  1. Notes split between staves so the pianist can read from a grand staff (treble and bass clefs)
  2. All notes condensed into one stave (bass clef for TTBB, and treble for SSAA)
The former is often a quicker read for most pianists.
The latter is still useful, but may become awkward due to the potential of excessive ledger line usage to accommodate the vocal range.
Either is appropriate, but it’s important to remember that it’s a reduction – not meant for performance. It doesn’t have to be pretty – simply efficient for rehearsal so the pianist can be beneficial and not a hindrance.

For Example: SSAA

 

Below is an excerpt from my piece, Pine Needles, for SSAA choir. As explained in my last article, the music is laid out in open score format, meaning each voice receives its own stave.

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 3.21.47 PM

 

Based upon our options, a reduction could look like one of the following:

 

ONE STAVE (Treble Clef)

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 3.21.58 PM

TWO STAVES (Grand Staff)

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 3.20.01 PM

*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:

  • articulation
  • 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

 

Final Considerations

 

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?

 

With gratitude,

The Pianist

 

P.S. I’d love to suggest to dictionary.com that their definition might change, omitting the ‘two staves’ qualifier.

1 Comment

  1. Another incredibly useful article. As an amateur I would not be able yet to add useful ideas to this discussion that people do not lead only because they did not find this site^^. In my first tryings of reducing complicated huge scores (trial and error at the beginning, I am afraid, still useful to see what you have to teach yourself still) I used, for ledger lines, the 8va or 8vb method, which is of course not too useful, but by learning to memorize a reduction it was not totally useless.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s