This module is a prelude for any actual playing assigned to a collaborative pianist, or any pianist who is interested in piano-reduction techniques. It encourages the pianist to make a survey (e.g., deeper than Module 3.4 on instrument transposition) of various orchestral instruments. Samuel Adler’s textbook, The Study of Orchestration, can provide useful reference for each instrument.


Main Concepts

  • Instrument names and shorthands
  • Aural identification

A feasible and logical goal for a collaborative pianist is to manage consistent abbreviations when marking the instrumentation on a piano reduction. Space is rather limited on the page, and these editorial shorthands should not be ambiguous. A regular habit of listening and identification of instruments is important to sharpen the ear’s sensitivity. How these sounds should be transferred (or not) to the piano keys will be further discussed at the end of this chapter in Module 5.9.

Drills and Improvisations

  • Create a list
  • Listen and identify

For each instrument family (e.g., strings, woodwind, brass, keyboard, percussion, etc.), the pianist should make a list of all instruments, each with convenient shorthand, range, description of timbre, and transposition (if any).

The pianist should listen to a classical/romantic orchestral excerpt and accurately identify instruments at different parts of the excerpt. The pianist should use a piano reduction and label the instrumentation on the music with abbreviations (Figures A and B). When an instrument joins in midway, the pianist might indicate with a plus sign; whereas when an instrument no longer remains, the pianist might indicate with a minus sign. A percussion part, such as timpani, should not be ignored. The duration of a timpani roll can be indicated with “…” or on a separate additional staff below the bass clef. Instrument groups can be expressed with “str” (for strings) and “ww” (woodwinds). Notes of sustained chords, which usually appear in the woodwind section and double up with a more rhythmically driven string section, might be missing. This inadequacy may be overcome by indicating with an abbreviation “sus ww.” The ultimate purpose of this drill is to “improvise” markings on the page that could be used as an alternative way to add missing notes on the music. At this point, the pianist should refrain from adding any notes on the existing piano reduction, or from performing any major “surgery” that requires moving existing notes on the page.

Figure A

Figure B

Goals for Next Class

  • Visual + aural —> label instrumentation with shorthands

The pianist should develop fluency and competence in comparing a piano reduction visually and aurally, while consistently marking the instrumentations in the piano reduction, without adding notes.