10 February 2017
Throughout this month, we answer piano-playing questions
My teacher keeps asking me to bring out the inner melodies, and I'm finding it quite tricky. Can you help with any tips for doing so?
A great deal of the music we play contains an inner melody. When we play, we should always pay close attention to the sound we make, and try to imagine the various melodic lines in a vocal or instrumental way. This will make our playing more interesting. Because music was sung before it was written down, our music is often written down in a vocal way, with upper melodies (soprano), middle melodies (alto/tenor) and lower notes (bass).
Romantic composers like Brahms, Schumann and Chopin contain many inner voices, and Rachmaninov is full of them. In the past, we’ve talked about bringing out, or accenting, notes within a chord, and the same principle applies here. When we have identified the inner melody, often a kind of accompanimental figure to the main melody, we can practise the two parts separately. When you can play each part well, you can bring the parts together by incorporating the ghost playing technique, something we have touched on before. Here, you practise bringing out one of the parts, whilst the other finger (or fingers) silently plays the other. It takes a degree of coordination, but doing this really slowly will always help. When practising this way, you can experiment with various levels of dynamic, from p to pp and then from mf to f and so on, changing the balance of sound between the parts until you are able to produce the sound you want. When you come to bring both melodies together, it should be easier to play.
Another really useful trick for practising bringing out different voice parts (a Bach fugue, is an excellent example) is to use two different hands, even when the music is written for one. And so you can play the upper part with the right hand, and the inner melody with the left, trying to imagine that the hand that has the lower part is acting as a kind of piano accompaniment, trying not to drown out the main part. When you come to play both parts in the same hand, the hand needs to be well balanced. More often than not, when you actually try to focus on bringing out one voice, the hand miraculously adapts, but you can help this along by applying a little more weight to the more important melody by tilting the hand and fingers a little in the direction you want more sound. Another tip, a kind of a throwback to a style of playing in the early 20th century, is to practise deliberately de-synchronising the parts, where you play one part a fraction of a second before the other. It can be a really useful exercise for the independence of the fingers.