Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Simplify Musical Notation?

Practical tips to simplify notation for a successful performance

In this video, Robert gives you practical and easy tips to simplify notation "on the fly" when you need to play a complex piece without much preparation.

Released on June 5, 2013

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, and welcome. I'm Robert Estrin here at The question today is how to simplify notation. What does this even mean?

Well, you have your musical score that you're trying to read or learn, and sometimes it's very complicated. In certain instances, you'll want to simplify it. Why? Let's say, for example, you're called to go to a Christmas party, and maybe you play the piano. People say, "Hey could you play some Christmas carols?" And they give you the book. You say, "Sure, you know, I haven't played for ten years." Then, you look at the book, and you realize it's one of these arrangements that's fancy with all these flourishing notes. You go, "Well, I don't know if I can do this." Well, yes you can.

I'm going to show you some tricks that you can do. This is applicable to all instruments, by the way. I'm going to tell you some things that are applicable just to piano and some things that are for all instruments. Piano scores by their very nature are a bit more complex than many other instruments, because you have two hands playing in multiple stabs. But, all of these techniques are the same.

If you have a very, very fancy flute part, let's say, you can leave out some of the fast notes and just play the melody notes. On a piano score, get the melody. The top note is usually the melody. The bottom note is the base. Then, try to flesh out what you can in the middle. This is totally justifiable in arrangements which aren't etched in stone anyway.

I would not recommend this except in a pinch, so if you absolutely had to play something for somebody because they just wanted to hear something that's above your level of a great composer. Because after all, Mozart, Beethoven, or any of the other great composers, every note is written for a reason and really creative license to leave out notes is not the best thing to do unless you just want to get a sense of what something sounds like.

But, when it's an arrangement anyway of something, then I think all bets are off. You can not only simplify, but you can embellish. Why not? It's an arrangement to begin with. So, feel free to get a sense of a piece of music or to share with others to get what you can. Get the notes you can to get the general structure. Look for the longer notes. Look for the highest notes in a score of instruments that play more than one note at a time and you'll be able to simplify a score so you can enjoy it on a level just for fun or to get familiar with something.

Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

nela * VSM MEMBER * on September 19, 2013 @10:41 am PST
Great tips for simplifying notations. I'm able to play simple music only but I want to try complex ones but it's just too difficult for me. Thank you once again for those tips.
Michael Verive on September 4, 2013 @7:11 pm PST
I use a variation of this technique when playing classical guitar with other musicians for patients and visitors at my hospital. Depending on who's available, I may be playing with a harpist, rhythm guitar, recorder, or any combination, and we each bring our own music. Snce many of our sessions are fairly impromptu, it's impossible to practice everything with everyone ahead of time, so we get the "basics" of the music, and fill in as needed. Not only does it expand our repertoire, but also makes it more fun and challenging - and relieves us and our listeners of the boredom sometimes inherent in playing the same old pieces, the same old way!
Robert Estrin * VSM MEMBER * on September 5, 2013 @10:56 am PST
A creative approach to music is inherent to what it's all about - enjoy!
Tammy * VSM MEMBER * on June 10, 2013 @3:17 pm PST
I was waiting for you to show more of what you mean here...Could you use a piece of music to show what you are talking about?
Robert - host, on June 11, 2013 @1:51 pm PST
Here is a video of how to simplify a complex arrangement:

I hope this helps!
Tammy * VSM MEMBER * on June 11, 2013 @8:54 pm PST
Oh, yes that helps alot. What a great video. It is very inspiring ~*~ Thank you so very much for the reply!
Brigitte * VSM MEMBER * on June 5, 2013 @3:46 pm PST
I really enjoy Robert's advice and how he explains various points.
David McNeill on June 9, 2013 @7:44 pm PST
Robert you're fantastic. Great insights into the delicate art of performance on the piano. I always have a giggle to myself when I see the Mozartian figure gracing the piano at the end of your spiel
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