Voices distinction

One of the things that from the get go drew me towards fingerstyle was the way in which voices seem to be split and individualised. It’s achieved in couple of ways. For example base line can be palm muted to create an illusion of another instrument. On higher levels it’s also possible to gain such independence between two parts of a song that the player can insert changes into rhythm or melody of a song to deepen an illusion of another musician lurking in the shadows.

But all the technical tricks are of little help if they aren’t the result of our imagination and mental image of the song. There is little chance that the musician creates multidimensional panorama of voices in his arrangement if he doesn’t first hear it in his head. That’s where it should all start. To play like two (or more) musicians you should first hear those separate instruments in your head. Of course it’s not some sort of a switch that you can just flip. It’s rather a skill that should be continuously developed. Here are couple of tips on how to approach it.

  1. While listening to songs played by a whole band try to distinguish individual voices. A good place to start is early Beatles stuff for example (back when they didn’t use additional instruments as much). Bare in mind that given voice can be played by more than one instrument and instruments can switch between different voices. Try to listen to some songs you know well and concentrate only on one voice at a time (first listen – base, second – guitar riffs etc.).
  2. Listen to some polyphonic music. Polyphonic music and counterpoint has been mastered in Baroque period and Bach is an obvious place to go. Try Das Wohltemperierte Klavier or Goldberg Variations to see how one man can simultaneously play up to 4 voices on one piano. Once you start to distinguish some of those voices, you are on a good track.
  3. Listen to your favourite fingerstyle stuff and follow the same routine.  First try to distinguish melody and accompaniment. Then search for different voices in accompaniment (though maybe there is just one).
  4. Take some song that you can play well and that has clear cut voices (some boom-chick or moving base song for example). Listen to the original and repeat previous point. You can try to sing the separate voices. Also try to imagine that the song is played by two or more instruments.
  5. Then try to play it concentrating on just one of the voices. At this point try to bring each voice (one at a time) forward as much as possible. Continue working with your imagination. Really put some effort into imagining two or more instruments. While concentrating on a melody try to imagine that the base is played by another musician. Repeat for base.

Try to implement the initial points into your normal music listening. Try to de-construct the wall of sound into voices. It will influence your playing.

After you do all this there is a question of how to approach the performance of a song containing multiple voices. But it’s a topic for another article.

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