5

I generally get the idea of "multiple voices" in music such as explained in this question and answer.

Is it also correct that in modern (e.g. non-classical) music multiple voices are used to show different instruments in a more compact way?

For example, in this part of "With or Without You" it looks like the bassline is in the bass clef and accompaniment chords are shown with stems pointing down and the vocal line is shown with stems pointing up.

"Within You and Without You" at lyrics "See the stone set in your eyes."

Also, I am sure the best answer is, "whatever sounds better" but is there a convention as to what a Pianist is supposed to play when there are multiple voices?

For another example, this section of "Hang on Sloopy" (found here) is confusing: "Hang on Sloopy" at lyrics "Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on."

Although there is an extra treble clef dedicated to the sung part of the song, it seems like the same notes are added to the accompaniment part of the score. Additionally (having tried it) playing only the stem down notes from the lower treble clef makes it sound like things are missing (for instance the first F note), however it is clearly in a different voice.

Even if someone could play all of the right hand notes, later sections of the song are quite awakward to play all of the notes in the middle trebble clef.

Is there some sort of standard to know what is expected to be played on Piano when looking at sheet music like this?

3
  • It sounds like the problems you mention in "later sections" of "Hang on, Sloopy" might be underlying this post. If that's the case, I suggest opening a second post to address those specifically in terms of how to play them. Before doing so, though, check out What is the best way to play a chord larger than your hand? to see if it addresses the issue(s).
    – Aaron
    Jan 30, 2023 at 2:52
  • "Even if someone could play all of the right hand notes" .... There's never more than three simultaneous notes. How is that unplayable?
    – Jim L.
    Jan 31, 2023 at 16:06
  • Did someone say it was unplayable @JimL.?
    – Startec
    Feb 5, 2023 at 2:33

1 Answer 1

11

Is it also correct that in modern (e.g. non-classical) music multiple voices are used to show different instruments in a more compact way?

Correct. There's nothing about this kind of multiple-voices-on-the-piano approach that is unique to classical music.

In the first example, the piano is covering the bass, voice, and guitar chords, as described.

Is there a convention as to what a pianist is supposed to play when there are multiple voices?

The second example is the same, except that the topmost staff is there for a vocalist, not the pianist. It's easier for a singer to read from a dedicated staff, so it's often included, even when the piano part also has the vocal line. This allows for three options:

  • Solo piano: play the two piano staves as written, so the vocals are covered, and the extra staff can be ignored.
  • Voice and piano 1: play the two piano staves as written, so the piano will double the singer.
  • Voice and piano 2: leave out the top-most notes in the piano part (or whichever notes are doubling the vocals), and just play the remaining notes to provide the harmony.
  • Voice and piano bonus option: Since chord symbols are included, the pianist can play off of those, including the written bass part, or creating one based on the chord symbols.

Sometimes one might encounter music in which the piano part does not include the vocal line. So, three staves as with "Hang on Sloopy", but in that case, a solo piano would have to read all three. And since the arrangement was created with a singer in mind, there could be situations where the span between the written piano part and the vocal part is too wide, awkwardly overlapping, or in some other way "unplayable".

For a solo pianist in this situation, compromises have to be made, with priority going to maintaining the vocal line. How to handle this depends on the abilities of the individual.

  • Some pianists will play the vocal part and intersperse chords as they can, according to the symbols provided.
  • Another pianist will play the vocal part, and play as much of the written piano part as possible.
  • And yet another pianist will do a combination of both.

Is there some sort of standard to know what is expected to be played on Piano when looking at sheet music like this?

As described above, it depends on the musician(s) involved. But simply:

  • A solo pianist who primarily plays from a fully notated score would be expected to play the lower two staves as written.
  • A solo pianist who plays from chord changes would be expected to play the vocal line and create their own bass and chord parts.
1
  • May be worth mentioning how the role of notation varies between traditions.  In ‘classical’ music, notation is fundamental and usually very precise, with performer(s) are expected to play it exactly as written, to realise the composer's vision — while in popular music notation (if it exists at all) is usually only a starting point, and it's expected for many performers to develop and customise that for their own instrumentation, abilities, and style.
    – gidds
    May 19 at 15:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.