Dissecting Chopin’s Nocturne in B major using an animated score (Grade 8 ABRSM 2011 – 2012)

This beautiful Chopin Nocturne is on the current Grade 8 syllabus for examination.

On Youtube, I have seen many ‘animated scores’ that provide a graphical, colour-coded representation of the many voices that can be found in a piece of music. What is a voice, you may ask? The most noticeable voice is the melody. This is the tune, or the bit you’d hum along to. Mostly, this is played in the right hand and in this Chopin Nocturne it is largely in the right hand. The upper-most voice is colour-coded orange in this graph.

The next voice that is easy to follow is the bass line as this is easy to isolate due to it’s low sound. In this video, it is colour coded magenta and is the lowest line of the graph.

So what about the orange, blue, violet and green lines that sit in-between the treble and bass voices? Well, these wonderfully magical and complex notes are the inside voices. Some of the inside voices are sustained or repeated notes – you can see this where the circle appears in the same place at a steady interval. Look at the opening and you will notice the inner 4 voices all have repeated notes, just not occuring at quite the same time. The graph also represented the pitch at which the notes are played. The higher the notes on the graph, that means the higher they are located on the keyboard.

Here is a screengrab of the opening section. The orange melody line is a meandering line with plenty of movement. The lowest bass voice is quite sparse in the opening. The inner voices are really doing plenty of work here as they are pushing the piece forward rhythmically by marking the pulse in a metronomic fashion.

These inner voices demand that you adjust the sound allocated to them so that you do not make them too loud or soft at the wrong time. We usually keep the inner voices quieter – this requires less pressure to be used on the keys. It is very demanding for a pianist to bring out certain notes but not others, especially when you are pressing all the keys at the same time. The weight has to be distributed unevenly between your fingers so that certain fingers play louder than others. This does not come naturally to students and will require many years of practice and exercises to achieve this.

Very often the melody notes fall on your outside fingers such as the 4th and 5th which are weaker fingers, yet you may have to keep your thumb, the strongest finger, the quietest. This is a challenge for any pianist to master and by Grade 8, you will be expected to display a mastery of this technique.

There are many animated scores on Youtube. Here is one by Claude Debussy, a French composer.

Debussy, Arabesque #1, Piano Solo
Look for the 3 distinct lines. Work out what colour the melody, bass and inside voices are in the beginning. Do any other voices appear in the piece later on?

The music animations are produced by Stephen Malinowski who has an excellent Youtube channel.


About Lorraine

Head Teacher at the SE22 Piano School, a private piano teaching practice in East Dulwich, South London. I work with a fantastic team of teachers offering piano, harpsichord & music theory lessons to adults and children from the age of 4. www.se22piano.co.uk
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