Advice needed -- creating a piano reduction

Hello everyone,

I am about to make a piano reduction of an opera. Quite much work so I am currently trying to find out the most efficient way to do it. The size of the orchestra is 2 fl 2 ob 2 fag 2 cor 2 tr and strings, second half of 18th century.

  1. When using the Paste special Reduce function, I end up with just too many voices per staff. How can I avoid this? I suppose this comes from the function creating extra voices?

  2. Is it possible to reset the number of voices on a staff? If I am actually only using one up and one downstem voice, it is a bit unnecessary to have three more.

I am working from imported xml files, generated in Finale. I have noticed that I must deactivate most of the checkboxes in xml import preferences (thanks to @benwiggy for writing about that in another post), because otherwise the Reduce function won’t work properly. I do however have to keep the beaming – sofar I did not notice any problems with that.

Related to the Finale import:

  1. Would it be time-saving to run Finale’s piano reduction plug-in on the string staves, and continue work from that in Dorico?

I don’t have much experience of making piano reductions so here are some general questions:

  1. Is it important to always keep doubling the bass one octave lower when the double basses are in unison with the celli? Or should one skip the doubling to be able to play more of the viola part in the left hand?
  2. I obviously have to make lots of choices of what to keep in the score to make the reduction playable; but should I refrain from that and keep unplayable things to let the pianist decide?

I am making extensive use of the Reduce function, but also Change to upstem voice 1, shift+I actions for adding intervals, alt+click paste, as well as duplicating/moving to staves. All this to use what is already written in the score. But would it be more efficient to just keep the top and bass lines and fill in the rest myself, using MIDI steptime entry? Maybe this can only be decided on a case by case basis…

Happy and grateful for any input related to all these questions, or the subject in general.


When using the Reduce function, Dorico will merge voices where notes are in rhythmic unison. Therefore, you might find you need to do less fix-up work with voices afterwards if you reduce the music in separate chunks according to where it is/isn’t in rhythmic unison.

You can change the voices of notes after the fact, yes – see here: (*edit: I see you already know about this, and were meaning specifically an auto-reset option, which doesn’t exist to the best of my knowledge I’m afraid.)

You could combine that with using filters for the additional voices, for example.

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I highly recommend Alan Belkin’s videos on this:

He’ll give you some pointers. I don’t think keeping the octave bass doubled is necessary, especially if there are more interesting counter melodies that should come out. Definitely don’t keep “unplayable things” and let the pianist decide. What you hand to a pianist should be perfectly playable. Maybe difficult, but still playable, not impossible.

Also be sure to check out Samuel Adler’s book The Study of Orchestration. In it, he gives examples of piano reductions of orchestral scores. It might be toward the back.

You can also take a look at famous piano reductions and see how they are done. For instance, Franz Liszt did every(!!) Beethoven symphony. I believe for number 9 he went with four hands though…I’d have to check. That’s also another option. You can do a piano reduction for four hands. But 18th century opera shouldn’t really need that…

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Liszt did both a solo piano and a two piano arrangement of the Ninth Symphony.

I think it was Brahms who gave excellent advice concerning reductions: leave out as many notes as possible (while still retaining the intended effect, of course.) . The best reductions are as idiomatic and playable as a piece originally written for solo piano. Needless to say, such reductions are very rare, however and require great skill: human skill.


because if you don’t, the accompanist will.


And in those days listening to reductions was much more common. I guess I will aim for being pragmatic – a reduction perfectly useful for rehearsal work, but maybe not so much more.

Leaving out notes is indeed a good advice. I will certainly be more selective of adding the Cb. octave to the bass line.

…and sometimes they will add some instead :slight_smile: