Piano Transcription

Question: Why didn’t you include transcription? I’ve always thought that it was an important part of learning an instrument.

– Mike B. (Chicago)

Albert’s reply: You’re absolutely right that transcriptions are a wonderful exercise. They’re particularly valuable for pianists, since pianists get so used to sound of their own instrument that they all too often forget that literally most of the music we play uses singers and the orchestra as its implicit model. At least that’s the case for classical music, and pianists should always strive to imagine the sounds and expressive devices of other instruments, particularly the voice. I like to say that the piano is the least expressive of musical instruments, since it lacks the ability to crescendo on a single note, or pitch effects such as vibrato and portamento, which melody instruments are able to achieve. Having other instruments in our mind’s ear subconsciously affects our timing and dynamics, both horizontally (within a line) and vertically (balance among harmonic and contrapuntal voices).

Piano transcriptions of orchestral and vocal music are therefore ideal, since they force us to imagine the sounds of other instruments. Both playing other transcriptions and writing our own are valuable, especially composing our own transcriptions. As pianists, we are both the conductor and the whole orchestra!

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