How to edit a piano reduction

Piano reduction of the Wedding March written e...

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The program for an upcoming chorus concert includes Mozart’s “Regina Coeli.”  I am currently editing the piano reduction.

Download “Regina Coeli” for $2.44

It is not necessary to play a piano reduction as written.  Publishers are not always pianists, and some reductions are practically impossible to play.  Different publishers and editors make different conclusions about how to reduce orchestral scores, so you will see wide variations between reductions of the same piece of music.

The intent is what matters, as well as support for the solo and chorus parts.  And, as always, clarity is more important than playing every note printed.  After all, this is not piano music!  No points are handed out for playing piano reductions exactly as written.

Types of piano reductions in collaborative piano playing

  • opera
  • oratorio
  • vocal/instrumental solo with orchestra
  • chorus with orchestra

Notation in piano reductions

  • often misleading ~ instrumental solo lines may not be accurate ~ listen to recording, also look at full score if possible
  • chords often arpeggiated when not performed as such in orchestra
  • parts sometimes written in a different octave for piano
  • stretches too wide to be played on piano


Listen to a recording for orchestration and sound (articulation, length of notes, how accents are performed, etc.)

Provide full orchestral sound when needed

Rewrite for clarity in piano sound

Retain composer’s style

  • arpeggiated chords appropriate?
  • broken chords possible or disruptive?
  • melody must be in a clear register
  • what sort of sound are you hearing?  Brilliant top?  Substantial bass?  Important inner parts?  Subdued?  Sharp attacks?  Sustained?

​What to strive for

complete chords ~ exception possible when chorus sings full chord

  • character of phrasing
  • supportive, consistent bass line
  • counter-melody
  • inner harmonic parts
  • clarity

What to change

  • anything that interferes with playing important elements ~ put it in the other hand or simplify
  • doublings when difficult to reach
  • wide stretches can often be rewritten as triads, for example.  If that sounds convincing, it trumps a broken chord.
  • arpeggiated chords ~ reductions frequently contain arpeggios when there are none in the score.  The notes are plunked into the reduction at their original pitches, but since no one can stretch far enough to play them as solid chords, the editor adds wavy lines to indicate arpeggios.  Don’t buy it!
  • separated tremolo (i.e. a 2-note chord followed by a separate 2-note chord) when solid tremolo sounds more orchestral.  It’s only notated separately by an editor, not the composer.  Play a solid chord to start, then tremolo.

Mozart’s “Regina Coeli,” K. 276, Kalmus edition

Download “Regina Coeli” for $2.44

My changes:



​Omit ”D” in RH to accommodate trill.  Altos sing ”D,” so the pitch is heard anyway.


Omit 2nd ”E” in RH to accommodate leap of a 10th in melody.  Although ”E” is missing from the harmony temporarily, upon practicing the passage this way several times, there seems to be enough going on so it won’t be missed by the audience.  Every 16th note is still present rhythmically.​


Move 16ths in beats 2 and 3 to LH, down an octave, to accommodate melodic leaps in melody.​


Add ”C” to RH under trill, add ”B” under ”G.”  Omit 2nd “middle C” and ”B” from LH (wide reach).  Open 5th on beat 3 for LH would be unacceptable, as would omitting low ”G.”​


Play ”C” and ”E” with left hand, same octave, to accommodate trill.​


​Drop lower RH part down an octave, play with LH, resume as written with dotted chords.  The accommodates RH trill.​


​Fast tremolo, not 16ths.


Divide 16ths between hands as necessary to accommodate trill and bass line.​


3rd beat, drop 16ths down an octave, play with LH.


Play 16ths with LH.


3rd beat, play ”C” and ”B” with LH.


Beat 2, drop 16ths down an octave, play with LH.


4th beat, omit lower octave in LH.


Omit lower octave in LH through low ”C” on 3rd beat.  2nd beat, drop 16ths down an octave, play with LH.​


Tremelo in LH.


Omit ”G” in RH.


Play root position triads in LH.

16/145, 146


Divide middle part between hands as necessary.​


Beat 4, drop RH “F” down an octave, play with LH.  Omit low ”D” in RH.  Trill doubles, don’t need.​


Beat 1, end trill on ”C” in RH, omit remainder of RH chord.  Chorus sings complete chord anyway.​


Beat 4, omit ”F” in RH.


Beat 1, finish trill on ”C”, omit remainder of RH chord.  Full chorus is singing, piano plays ”E” octave in 2nd 8th note of bar.

Bottom line

The “piano part” you play should sound like the piece was composed.  Don’t introduce sounds that are not in the orchestra if you can help it.

How do you approach playing piano reductions?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!


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  1. 1
    Geraldine Says:

    This is such a great topic! I remember doing a school presentation on it, and passing around scores for my fellow students to edit. It really is a skill of its own. I edit a piece while running through it the first time, I never practice the piece first as is to see what I can’t play, I just start with editing so that I can practice that version right away.
    Great post and excellent guidelines!

    • 2

      Hi Geraldine!

      Thank you!

      I do the same thing, marking the piano reduction the first time at the piano. It has never worked to attempt what is written, so why waste all that time?

      Another consideration is that everyone needs to edit the score to fit their playing.

      Great to see you!


  2. 3

    Amazing and fascinating! I keep on discovering more and more of your talents and skills. Super! :-)

  3. 5
    Suzanne Says:

    I need one for the first movement of Brahms’ violin concerto!

  4. 7
    yiyi ku Says:

    Great post! I agree with all your guidelines! Another thing I have encountered when playing reductions is the addition/omission of accidentals. Sometimes an accidental is implied but inadvertently left out in the reduction, because it happens later on in the bar in another (often less important) instrumental or vocal part.

  5. 8

    Hi Yiyi!

    Thanks so much!

    Thanks for bringing my attention to accidentals. I’ll look for that from now on.

    Great to see you!


  6. 9
    mark niemela Says:

    Score reading an imp skill – one comment that raises the bar sky-high: “Pianist incredible – can sightread a triple transposition!” (3 different transposing instruments simultaneously)

    • 10

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for stopping by!

      This is more about dealing with previously reduced scores. Some are written to be played, others are way out there. “Arranged for piano by ____” is a clue. One example is Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne.” And sometimes composers will rewrite their scores for other instruments, including piano.

      I agree about score reading ~ transposing instrumental parts is often a rehearsal requirement.


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