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Making the melody stand out
#1978303 10/25/12 12:34 AM
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Right now, I'm playing Chopins Nocturne in F# major op15 no2 (ok, don't laugh, this is for AmusA - my third try at it). For the middle section, you have to make the melody stand out, but I just can't make the accompanying middle voice be softer. Any tips?


HSC pieces:
Shostakovich Piano Concerto op 102. movement 1
Chopin Op10 No1
Debussy Broulliards Preludes Bk1
Kats-Chernin Russian Rag
Messiaen Regard d'letoile
Mozart Sonata for 2 pianos D major
Re: Making the melody stand out
SamXu #1978306 10/25/12 12:45 AM
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Are you trying to hold down the melody notes while playing the middle notes? (You shouldn't....well actually a little bit, but not much.)

BTW, the obvious answer to your question would be "hit the middle notes lighter" but I'm sure you know that, so I'm not saying it. grin

The issue is, why aren't you, or why can't you. I'm wondering if what I asked about might be part of it. If not, there'll be other things.

OK, here's one other thing right away: smile
In order to bring out those melody notes, there needs to be some tension in the fingers. (Some gurus will say "Nonsense, you should never play with tension" but that's nonsense.) ha

But in order to play the accompanying notes softly, there should be very little tension in the hand. Part of the trick, I think, is to keep quickly shifting between "tension" and "no tension"; the 'tension' should be present for only a brief instant when you're playing each melody note (or notes -- sometimes it's an octave of course). I wonder if your hand is retaining too much tension while you're playing the notes that are supposed to be soft. It's very, very hard to play softly that way.

Re: Making the melody stand out
SamXu #1978334 10/25/12 03:13 AM
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One thing that helps is to have a clear mental "image" of the sound you want. Not in the abstract, but as an imagining of the actual sound you want to hear yourself produce.


Re: Making the melody stand out
SamXu #1978447 10/25/12 10:37 AM
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To get the clear "mental image" - and aural image - that wr refers to, try playing the "melody" notes (octaves) with one hand and playing the inner accompanying notes with the left hand. Initially, this should be done quite slowly. If you find that it involves too much of hands getting in the way of each other, try playing the two "voices" at different octaves until you can achieve and hear the balance that you are striving for.

Regards,


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Re: Making the melody stand out
SamXu #1978455 10/25/12 10:56 AM
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btw, GOOD EAR on your part that you're realizing the problem. Often people seem not to, and just keep playing those notes too loud.

I think the "image" thing is more likely to help someone who doesn't realize the problem on his/her own. I mean, it's not a bad idea, and usually I lean strongly toward things like that rather than specific physical suggestions. But when someone puts the question this way, and particularly when there are very clear physical aspects of the execution that could produce the problem so stubbornly, I think not.

Re: Making the melody stand out
SamXu #1978465 10/25/12 11:15 AM
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Do you mean that you try to play the inner notes softly and they come out too loud or that you try and play them softly but end up playing too many ghost notes(they don't sound at all)?

If it's the first situation then you need to try and play them more softly. If it's the second situation, then the problem is more complicated but I have at least one suggestion that worked for for me after trying for many years to solve it unsuccessfully.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 10/25/12 11:18 AM.
Re: Making the melody stand out
SamXu #1978494 10/25/12 12:47 PM
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Try this practice technique: Play the melody note first, by itself, then the remaining notes of the beat fractionally later. The melody will now jump out and you can then more clearly hear the balance between the voices. Once the voicing is corrected rejoin the parts and you are good to go.


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Re: Making the melody stand out
Stanza #1978499 10/25/12 01:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Stanza
Try this practice technique: Play the melody note first, by itself, then the remaining notes of the beat fractionally later. The melody will now jump out and you can then more clearly hear the balance between the voices. Once the voicing is corrected rejoin the parts and you are good to go.
In the passage under consideration, the melody notes and remaining notes are not played together. But even if that was not the case, unless I am not understanding your post I don't really see why playing them that way would help. If it was a question of voicing a chord, then the whole problem is being able to play the notes together the way one wants.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 10/25/12 01:07 PM.
Re: Making the melody stand out
SamXu #1978511 10/25/12 01:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Debbusyist
Right now, I'm playing Chopins Nocturne in F# major op15 no2 (ok, don't laugh, this is for AmusA - my third try at it). For the middle section, you have to make the melody stand out, but I just can't make the accompanying middle voice be softer. Any tips?


Press the accompaniment, stroke the melody.

Re: Making the melody stand out
SamXu #1978523 10/25/12 01:43 PM
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Play the whole thing softer. Then just concentrate on the melody. Some ideas for bringing out just the melody:

Slightly curl the finger that is playing the melody.

Rotate the part of your hand that is playing a melody note toward the fallboard, especially if it is the pinky or thumb.

Play the non-melody notes alone. Play the melody notes alone.

Slowly play all the notes but only make a sound with the melody ones. Make all the others silent. (I put this in bold type because it will probably help the most.)

I'm at work so that's all I can think of for now.

Good luck!


Best regards,

Deborah
Re: Making the melody stand out
Stanza #1978537 10/25/12 02:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Stanza
Try this practice technique: Play the melody note first, by itself, then the remaining notes of the beat fractionally later. The melody will now jump out and you can then more clearly hear the balance between the voices. Once the voicing is corrected rejoin the parts and you are good to go.


While I agree with Pianolover that this method doen't make a lot of sense, it has actually helped me on a number of occassions, most recently when I was struggling to bring out an inner melodyin a Rachmaninoff piece which changed constantly from the top note to the bottom note of the left hand.
I think it helped because you get the feeling of the melody note being hit harder followed in close succession by the feeling of the accompanying note(s) being hit softer, and then the feeling of holding all the notes together. Then you try to duplicate those feelings when you hit the notes together.

Anyway, it has helped me a number of times, though I can't say why for certain. Often, for me,bringing out an inner melody is a mysterious thing that is never hard, despite all the struggle and work you put in to it: it just goes from being impossible, to seeming to happen by itself when you hear the melody in your head.

Re: Making the melody stand out
gooddog #1978545 10/25/12 02:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Damon
Originally Posted by Debbusyist
Right now, I'm playing Chopins Nocturne in F# major op15 no2 (ok, don't laugh, this is for AmusA - my third try at it). For the middle section, you have to make the melody stand out, but I just can't make the accompanying middle voice be softer. Any tips?


Press the accompaniment, stroke the melody.


oooh i'm gonna go and try that.

Originally Posted by gooddog
Play the whole thing softer. Then just concentrate on the melody. Some ideas for bringing out just the melody:

Slightly curl the finger that is playing the melody.

Rotate the part of your hand that is playing a melody note toward the fallboard, especially if it is the pinky or thumb.

Play the non-melody notes alone. Play the melody notes alone.

Slowly play all the notes but only make a sound with the melody ones. Make all the others silent. (I put this in bold type because it will probably help the most.)


I'm gonna go and try this as well.


HSC pieces:
Shostakovich Piano Concerto op 102. movement 1
Chopin Op10 No1
Debussy Broulliards Preludes Bk1
Kats-Chernin Russian Rag
Messiaen Regard d'letoile
Mozart Sonata for 2 pianos D major
Re: Making the melody stand out
Mark_C #1978551 10/25/12 02:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Mark_C
Are you trying to hold down the melody notes while playing the middle notes? (You shouldn't....well actually a little bit, but not much.)

BTW, the obvious answer to your question would be "hit the middle notes lighter" but I'm sure you know that, so I'm not saying it. grin

The issue is, why aren't you, or why can't you. I'm wondering if what I asked about might be part of it. If not, there'll be other things.

OK, here's one other thing right away: smile
In order to bring out those melody notes, there needs to be some tension in the fingers. (Some gurus will say "Nonsense, you should never play with tension" but that's nonsense.) ha

But in order to play the accompanying notes softly, there should be very little tension in the hand. Part of the trick, I think, is to keep quickly shifting between "tension" and "no tension"; the 'tension' should be present for only a brief instant when you're playing each melody note (or notes -- sometimes it's an octave of course). I wonder if your hand is retaining too much tension while you're playing the notes that are supposed to be soft. It's very, very hard to play softly that way.

I think we're going to get into a case of semantics here, but I thought I'd chime in anyway. wink

I am averse to using the word tension, because tension necessarily means two things pulling in opposite directions. You definitely don't want your muscles doing that. Also, "tension" is very often associated with "gripping", and such a practice will not help in the endeavor described.

I think what you do mean, is that you hold that particular finger "stiffer" than the others, so when the entire mechanism hits the keys, the "stiff" finger hits harder, making the hammer move faster, and thus producing a louder sound. I gather this from your use of "momentary tension", and hope I have not gone too far off the mark!

But I still draw issue with the word "stiff", because "stiffness" leads to "gripping", "gripping" leads to "tension", and "tension" is the path to injury. (Sorry, Yoda, I had to.)

The best way I've heard it said is that you should put more "weight" behind the finger that is supposed to bring out the melody. There is a mechanical-visual way to describe this, but I am afraid the description will lead to the aforementioned "gripping" problem, so I will leave it out for now. But if one puts more weight behind the finger playing, which as I said, I think is a semantic argument from yours, then the note that finger is pressing will ring louder and clearer than the other notes in the group.


Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.
Re: Making the melody stand out
Derulux #1978565 10/25/12 03:05 PM
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Indeed I think that such discussions (and arguments) are often no more than semantics, even though the people usually seem not to realize it. There was an extended series of discussions/arguments between two members who considered themselves experts on mechanics of piano playing and who kept churning to the point that they both got banned. As near as I could tell, most or all of their 'tension' (so to speak) ha was that they meant different things by various terms they were using (including "tension"), but didn't realize it and were totally resistant to considering it when it was suggested.

I'd like to avoid getting much into what you're saying because I think it wouldn't be anything but semantics. The word "tension" means different things -- all related, but different enough. I think the meaning I intended is clear enough from the context of what I said. I understand what you mean about being averse to using the word for what I was talking about, and I know that you're trying to make it clearer and avoid wrong messages. But I think it's a problem only if you think people would generally mistake the intended meaning -- and I don't think they would. In fact, I'd say that talking about it in terms of "tension" and "no tension" is a pretty clear way to express it, and more easily applicable than if we put it in terms of "stiffness" or "weight."

Although maybe not, because it seems Debussyist ignored my post entirely. ha

Re: Making the melody stand out
SamXu #1978576 10/25/12 03:24 PM
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Also, regardless of whatever is happening mechanically, and whatever might be the correct terms for referring to it, we are trying to control this mechanism with a brain that is connected to a whole bunch of nerve endings running in and out. We slowly and painfully learn that sending a signal down a certain nueral pathway causes a muscle to contract, and we figure out which one by means of signals coming back at us through other nueral pathways; we assemble groups of them into movements, and over time manage to put together something approaching a useful model of the world out there and our effect on it.

However, when we are trying to learn new ways to move our fingers, we really are thrashing around in our skulls trying to find the right combination of nueral signals that will give us the effect we want. Knowing what we theoretically want to do is of only limited help: It doesn’t tell our brain what nueral patrhways to fire up, although it may provide clues or narrow the field. In the end, a lot of it is probably just trial and error.

Sometimes, I think learning to play an instrument is in some ways like the experience of a stroke victim who needs to find new neural pathways with which to control muscles in order to accomplish what used to be familiar movements. Theoretical discussions are of only limited help. You just need a ton of trial and error.

Re: Making the melody stand out
Okiikahuna #1978578 10/25/12 03:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Okiikahuna
Also, regardless of whatever is happening mechanically, and whatever might be the correct terms for referring to it, we are trying to control this mechanism with a brain that is connected to a whole bunch of nerve endings running in and out. We slowly and painfully learn that sending a signal down a certain nueral pathway causes a muscle to contract, and we figure out which one by means of signals coming back at us through other nueral pathways; we assemble groups of them into movements, and over time manage to put together something approaching a useful model of the world out there and our effect on it.

However, when we are trying to learn new ways to move our fingers, we really are thrashing around in our skulls trying to find the right combination of nueral signals that will give us the effect we want. Knowing what we theoretically want to do is of only limited help: It doesn’t tell our brain what nueral patrhways to fire up, although it may provide clues or narrow the field. In the end, a lot of it is probably just trial and error.

Sometimes, I think learning to play an instrument is in some ways like the experience of a stroke victim who needs to find new neural pathways with which to control muscles in order to accomplish what used to be familiar movements. Theoretical discussions are of only limited help. You just need a ton of trial and error.

That's why I think "tension" and "relaxation" is as good a way to put it as any. grin

It conveys a basic idea of what would be good, and perhaps the person can apply it.

We should mention that this all is easier if you're teaching someone in person. I think the thrashing-about that we do on this site when we discuss such things, and the trouble that writers have in trying to put their theories on paper (like what we saw with our two banned members), is almost entirely due to the limitations of trying to do it in any context other than working with someone in person.

A lot of things are like that. Not everything is, but the fine points of piano playing sure are.

Re: Making the melody stand out
SamXu #1978614 10/25/12 05:01 PM
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While most - if not all - of these tips are undoubtedly helpful, I feel that some of you might be speaking in general terms without having closely looked at the score. There are complexities in this section of the score that perhaps require a close look at details to help solve the challenges that the OP faces.

Regards,


BruceD
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Re: Making the melody stand out
Mark_C #1978620 10/25/12 05:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Mark_C
Indeed I think that such discussions (and arguments) are often no more than semantics, even though the people usually seem not to realize it. There was an extended series of discussions/arguments between two members who considered themselves experts on mechanics of piano playing and who kept churning to the point that they both got banned. As near as I could tell, most or all of their 'tension' (so to speak) ha was that they meant different things by various terms they were using (including "tension"), but didn't realize it and were totally resistant to considering it when it was suggested.

I'd like to avoid getting much into what you're saying because I think it wouldn't be anything but semantics. The word "tension" means different things -- all related, but different enough. I think the meaning I intended is clear enough from the context of what I said. I understand what you mean about being averse to using the word for what I was talking about, and I know that you're trying to make it clearer and avoid wrong messages. But I think it's a problem only if you think people would generally mistake the intended meaning -- and I don't think they would. In fact, I'd say that talking about it in terms of "tension" and "no tension" is a pretty clear way to express it, and more easily applicable than if we put it in terms of "stiffness" or "weight."

Although maybe not, because it seems Debussyist ignored my post entirely. ha

I agree 100%. I only hoped to try and clear up any confusion surrounding the word itself. Obviously, if we were all sitting down at a piano and could explain with multiple senses what we meant, we would better grasp our intended meaning. But I sincerely think we're on the same page, which is why I started my reply as such. smile


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Re: Making the melody stand out
Derulux #1978653 10/25/12 07:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Derulux
I agree 100%. I only hoped to try and clear up any confusion surrounding the word itself. Obviously, if we were all sitting down at a piano and could explain with multiple senses what we meant, we would better grasp our intended meaning. But I sincerely think we're on the same page, which is why I started my reply as such. smile

If those other two guys were so thoughtful and flexible-minded, they'd still be here.
And who knows, they might have succeeded in working out the mysteries of piano mechanics. grin

Re: Making the melody stand out
SamXu #1978704 10/25/12 10:27 PM
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There have been a lot of good ideas presented in this thread (particularly Damon, gooddog, BruceD, and Stanza), but IMHO the core principle is something Mark C said early on: momentary tension [followed by a graceful release, resting the fingers on (not above) the notes].

The "graceful" bit may seem fanciful and vain, but the visual grace helps associate the motion with physical freedom and the hand at rest, so to speak.


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