How to voice melody in chords?

Ravel Valses Nobles et Sentimental III

Ravel Valses Nobles et Sentimental III

How to voice melody in tight impressionist chords? In the third waltz of Ravel's Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, there's a short, absolutely beautiful lyrical section where the chords in the right hand are clustered tightly together.

I worked very hard trying to sing this part (it's one of my favorite sections in the whole piece), but it comes out sounding like a bunch of clunky chords.

The only practice technique I know is to play the top note legato followed quickly by the lower notes of the chord softly staccato. I spent a million years doing this and getting it up to speed but no luck when I play the chords as is.

I think the problem might be especially the chords where the top two notes are a whole step apart (D and E, A and B) or maybe that I can't use legato fingering for some of the top notes (like 5 to 5 on some of the melody notes)

This is a problem in other pieces I try, but if I can figure out this one, I bet it would help with those as well.

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How to bring out melody in chords exercise
by: Maria


This is a challenging problem but very important. Bringing out the melody in the top voice of a chord requires some physical "muscle" building of the hands' 5th finger muscle. But also of the inner ear, listening intensely and not losing contact with the melody in your mind, singing within, helping to bring out the melody.

I would use the method you have already tried, but a bit more elaborated. Step by step:

Right hand:

1) Play the melody only, using the fingers you'll use when playing the whole chord. Play loudly and mark each note, but phrase as you will later. No pedal.

2) Play the melody note first (loud), hold it, and then play the rest of the chord/notes softly and staccato, but keep the melody note slightly longer. Then move with legato (when possible) to the following melody note. Play slowly.

Practice this until you can hear each melodic phrase clearly. Then try with the pedal as well.

3) Same as 2, but add rhythmic repetitions of the chords as you keep the melody note. You can try any rhythm; 8ths, 16ths, triplets, but remember to keep holding the top note and play a soft staccato with the chords. With and without pedal.

At this point, watch, so you don't develop any pain!

4) Now practice the above steps again (2-3), but play the melody note simultaneously with the chord (as written). Keep holding the top note and playing soft staccato with the rest.

Finally, repeat all the steps above in a very slow tempo together with the left hand.

I have written more practice tips about how to bring out the melody better here:

I hope this helped! 😀

Happy practicing,

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