Learn to improvise. 2003-2004. Lesson 25: voicing and accompaniment of singing.

Writing music for an orchestra must preferably be done in a way that every member can enjoy practicing his part. In order to achieve this, you have to split the chords into melodies. This is called voicing. There are many books about it, as it is highly esteemed for arranging, especially in classical music. The classic case is Bach who is famous for it. It is a pity however a complete voicing is an unfeasible goal for improvising.

What we could do, is preparing a voicing for parts of chord schemes which occur in many songs. Some examples are: C Gm A7 and Dm F G7. Once we have made a nice voicing for them, we may use it every time we meet these schemes.

A piano however doesn't have different sounds for the voices like a choir has. That's why voicing is less interesting for a piano. We have to restrict in the number of voices as well in the presentation. The only way we have, is to play one of the voices (the second part) louder. The leading part usually is best suited for that.

Another restriction is the length of the second voice. For an orchestra an interesting voicing can be maintained during the whole piece, for a piano alone and especially for improvisation one has to accept short pieces with it. In the foregoing scheme C Gm A7 one could choose to play in the bass the note c during the chord C, the note b-flat during Gm and the note a during A7. In the scheme Dm F G7 one may use the notes d, c and b. The left hand may play these melodies emphasized.

The rest of the voicing has to be realized in the position of the chords. A thumb rule for that is to spread the notes in the bass more than elsewhere.

Another possibility in voicing for a piano is to leave notes out in the chords. Compare a duet. They have to limit the number of voices to two anyway, which results in a special effect of voicing.
Singing together with your piano suddenly gives extra possibilities. It is important to figure out beforehand in which (initial) key your voice rings best. Then you accompany your singing with only chords and with a loudness which suits your singing best. Try out in which octave you best can play the chords. Some voices sound best with a scraggy accompaniment, others prefer a bass to make up for something missing. Keep the accompaniment simple. The attention has to go to the singing. As soon as the singing stops, the piano may modulate to the (initial) key in which you can play the song best. When the singing starts again you go back to the singing key.

It is practical to have the text and chords of the song in both keys, e.g. at the left side the key to sing and at the right side to play the piano solo. I think of course of the notation I mentioned before: big letters with, at the right places in between the chords in a clear and eye-catching manner, the (primary) chords. The bass lines which were made beforehand for the voicing, may be mentioned separately. Usually it is sufficient to give the row of notes, e.g.:
(Down: c b-flat a) C Gm A7, and (Down: d c b) Dm F G7.
Hear the chords with the emphasized bass notes.
HOMEWORK: Take a song you know well. Search for good bass notes at the chords. Sing and accompany yourself. Accompany someone else who sings. Take your time to try out the best initial key for the voice. Don't play too loud. Don't make the chords too full. Help the singer with the notes he cannot hit well.
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