The Voices in Music and How to Bring Them Out on the Guitar
My name is Manuel Diewald and I am a Sydney-based guitar teacher in West Pennant Hills with a B.Mus. (Hons) (First) in Music Pedagogy from The University of New South Wales (UNSW).
Do you find when you are playing guitar that the melody is not loud or clear enough compared to the other voices in the music? There are ways that we can look to bring the melody out whether it is in the top voice and/or in the bass. I am going to cover this issue for the classical (nylon string), acoustic (steel string), and electric guitars. This will predominantly be determined by whether you use the fingerstyle technique or a pick and not the type of guitar you use.
When playing fingerstyle guitar there are a few ways we help to bring out the melody for whichever voice it is in and whether it stays in that voice or moves between different voices. Let's take a look at the melody in the top voice, this being the highest pitch. If we are playing an arpeggiated style piece and are using free stroke to let all the notes ring out over each other, we can alter this technique by adding rest stroke to only the melody. Rest stroke will bring the melody out even more by creating a fuller and rounder tone. The contrast between rest stroke on the melodic notes only and free stroke on the accompaniment and bass notes will contrast the voices and allow that separation for the voices to ring clear as you intend them to.
Let's take a timeless piece, 'Romanza' by our favourite composer, anonymous. Below, in example A, you can see I have circled the melody in blue, the accompaniment notes in red, and the bass notes in green. We can also look at dynamics to help contrast the melody against the accompaniment notes and the bass notes. By playing the melody louder, which means adding a bit more power into the finger that is playing the melodic notes and then decreasing that power with the fingers playing the accompaniment notes, you can create even more of a balance that is leaning towards the melodic notes. The bass notes in this example will most likely be as loud as the melody though this can come down to personal preference. The bass notes should however be louder than the accompaniment notes.
You can also Separate the voices while practicing, playing the melody on its own, which can be a great way to further help bring out that melody as isolating it will allow you to shape it without having to focus on the other voices. You can see in example B how the melody looks on its own. Remember that when you play the melody on its own, be sure to use the same left and right-hand fingerings so as to imitate how it will feel when putting it all together again.
Using a pick (or plectrum)
When using a pick, we can implement the approach of dynamics by playing the melody louder. Here the pick stroke in the melody will be louder compared to that of the other parts. What about when we are looking at a melody that is in a song where we are playing chords?
Here we can take the approach again with dynamics but to further this approach we can also incorporate accents into specific parts of the melody that we want to bring out. This may be on a specific beat such as beat 1 to emphasise the beginning of each bar or it may be on the highest point of the melody. It may also be to emphasise the strumming pattern. All these approaches require the right hand to add a bit more power at a specific part of the strum which means more control will be needed to accomplish this.
Let's take a look at example C below. Here we have a strumming pattern though the emphasis is going to be on the melodic part of this chord progression (I have highlighted the melody in blue). to bring this melody out within the strumming pattern, you may want to use the approach of accents I mentioned earlier. By putting a bit more power into those melodic notes in your strum will help you bring them out. Do we want to put accents on every single note? Not necessarily, you may want to only add an accent on the first beat of each bar. In example C, the melodic note changes each bar so it would be appropriate to emphasise it in with an accent the first bar only to bring out that change. Once the melody has been heard, it is easier for it to be followed.
I hope this was helpful in some way, remember that these are only some examples of approaches that can be taken to bring out the melody. If you are learning or have learned a piece/song in these styles, have a go at incorporating the techniques mentioned to bring out the melody and see if it makes a difference, and if so, how much.