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Balancing Textures When Playing – Music Performance

Balancing Textures When Playing – Music Performance


Hi. In this video I’m going to talk for a
moment about balancing textures. Now what on earth is all this about
and to whom does it apply? Well it certainly would apply to any performer
and it would certainly be something that composers would want to think about, so
first of all let’s talk about this second word, ‘texture’ and one way of
thinking about texture is simply to say well texture is really about how sound
is organised. In other words, this texture is high, this texture is low, so simply is
the texture high or is it low, or have I got a texture that’s sort of in the
middle of the range as I have here. Or have I got a widely spaced texture, so
I’m putting this in keyboard terms at the moment but it could be true of an
orchestral or a band score but what if I had a texture like this. Do you see what’s
happening there, my right hand is high my left hand is low and there’s a big hole
in the middle. So the texture is partly about is it high, is it low, how is it spaced
out, that would be one way of looking at it. Another thing you can think about
with texture, is it thick or is it thin? So for example here’s a two-part texture.
I’ve just got one part going in the right hand and one in the left hand. That’s a two-part texture, but I could
have a texture that’s got four parts. I could have a texture there’s got more
parts. So, how high, how low, how spaced, how thick,
how thin, these are all things that you can talk about in relation to texture. We
also talked about homophonic texture, which is what I’ve been playing really
so far, lots of chords, it’s a kind of vertical
construction. May have a melody over the top of it but it’s kind of based on a
chordal construction or alternatively is it a polyphonic texture where we’ve got
kind of layered sounds, one on top of the other, kind of melodic lines all fitting
together, but we’ve got more of a horizontal design. So all these things
are defining the texture, how is this sound organised. Okay
so what’s all this balancing lark about then, well this is about you’ve got to
work out in the texture, is there a particular line that maybe is a bit more
important than another line? So for example you may have a melody in the
right hand if you’re playing a piano piece that’s accompanied by something in
the left hand. In which case, whatever the dynamic
marking is, you probably want to have the right hand playing a little bit you know
louder than the left hand, then if the tune switches in to the left hand, well
we need to balance the texture differently so we can draw out this tune
in the left hand. Sometimes it will be the same for the whole piece of music,
sometimes it will change. How we balance a texture can have a profound effect on
the success of a performance, so let me give you an example of some bad
balancing your texture, okay so I’m going to make up a little waltz now, the tune
is in the right hand and the left hand is going to be fairly busy with a little
accompanying idea and I’m going to present what’s not a great balance of
the texture. Now can you hear what the problem is? The
left hand is busy and it’s playing a few chords so the temptation is to play a
little bit louder isn’t it, but the poor are tuned in the right hand
what happened to it, we can’t really hear it can we, because actually the way we
need to balance that texture is to get the right hand to sing out a bit more
than the left hand. So should we try another waltz see if we can do a bit
better and this time I’ll see if I can get the right hand to be a bit louder
than the left hand. Can you hear what a vast difference that
makes. So this is just to illustrate the point that when you’re playing a piece of
music, you’ve got to think about what’s going on in the texture, even if you’re
playing a solo instrument like a violin or a clarinet or a trumpet or something,
just have a think – am I always playing the tune, or are there moments when maybe
the piano accompaniment has got the tune and I’m accompanying, so I need to kind of
get down in the texture there and the balance of the texture, let the accompaniment come through, you know what happens if I’m playing in an orchestra,
is my line the most important line at this point or actually am I accompanying.
Or you might even be able to think well actually somebody’s got the main tune
and I’ve got a little bit of a thing that’s supporting their tune, so I’m not
the most important thing and I’m not the least important thing but maybe I’m
sitting in the middle, so you might be able to balance a texture on more than
two levels and watch out for where the texture changes. If you’re a composer
you’ll be wanting to think about balancing textures in the score, you
know it’s not really going to work is it if you’ve got that little waltz melody
being played by a solo violin and the left-hand bit that I’ve just played is
being played by the entire brass section, it’s not going to balance at all is it,
so we need to think when we’re scoring for any ensemble how the balance is
gonna work. For instrumental music, for vocal music, in any style of music, so an
important thing to think about that quite often people maybe don’t spend
quite enough time on and quite often the thing that is the loudest is the thing
that’s moving fastest, or is the hardest thing to play, or the thing that’s got
the most notes in it and actually that’s often not the most important thing, so
have a think about the music that you’re playing and the music that you’re
writing and try and work out at any given moment where the most important
part is and what’s accompanying it so that you can get sorted out on balancing
your textures and you’ll be amazed how much musical refinement it brings to the end result.

Comments (5)

  1. Invaluable advice – thanks for sharing!

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  3. T h a n k y o u , g o o d s i r .

  4. Thank you for the excellent lesson! It was very helpful and informative.

    I have trouble playing different dynamics in each hand. Is there a technique or exercise to overcome this?

  5. Reminds me of Miss Ann Elk's theory of the brontosaurus: "It's thin at one end, much, much thicker in the middle and then thin again at the other end" (Monty Python). Seriously as an over 60 year old, looking at Grade 8 piano, your lessons are invaluable. In some respects the aural aspect is the most difficult. Thank you.

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