How to Play Piano Accompaniment for Soloist

The piano is a very versatile instrument. You can play it as a solo instrument, or you can play accompaniment for soloist or vocalist. This makes the piano such a fun instrument to learn. In this article, you will find the most common rules, guide lines and method to play accompaniment.

1. Never play the melody simultaneously with the soloist
I often see many beginner pianists playing the melody when accompanying a vocalist. They simply don’t know what to do with their right hand. Playing the melody is the only way they can keep their right hand on the keyboards. The melody is the singer’s domain, and singers often resent piano players who “play on top of them.”

2. Left hand plays the bass
To keep it simple when you start practicing, play the root of the chord with your left hand pinky finger. It won’t sound out of tune I guarantee. But if you want to play nicer notes, learn some appropriate chord inversion. Try some passing notes between chords. You can also arrange the bass notes that actually leading or solving into the next chords.

Example,
For chord progression C to F, you can play E for C chord, and F for F chord. The E will lead to F. That’s why they call E the leading note of F.

3. Play chords with the right hand
When you are playing the melody, you just free up your right hand’s main task, which is obviously playing the melody when there is no singer around. So according to rule #1, no MELODY… ….. No NO …. no melody please. Play chords instead. Play those notes within the chord. Start with the simple triad, and then some inversion, and then some arpeggios. After you are familiar with the 3 notes triad, venture into some other interesting voicing, e.g. 9th, Maj7th, 11th, 13th etc.

4. Don’t ever let your left hand get bored!
Simply playing some roots and passing note on left hand for the whole song, you will feel bored. Add some other notes. You can:

  • double the root with your thumb, it is even better if you can play 10th apart. e.g. C – E ( not 3rd, but 10th). I found it hard for most Asians because of their physical limit.
  • add in 5th – it will hardly sound dissonant with the 5th note added. But try avoid it at the low notes. It’ll sound muddy.
  • play chord and voicing – when you hit the bass note and press the sustain pedal, you free up your left hand instantly. Use the “free time” to play some chords and voicing together with your right hand.
  • ostinato pattern – I wrote about it before. Refer to the link.

5. Familiar with chord notation
Actually, chord notation is the basic of playing piano accompaniment. A chord is the simplest way to show all the notes we need to play. Imagine looking at a chord music sheet:

Compare it to EbMaj7 9. It probably takes you 1-3 seconds to comprehend all the notes shown in the staff. But if you look at the chord symbol, it takes me less than a second to figure out the voicing. When you play from chords, you basically create your own arrangement on the spot. This can be as easy or difficult as you want it to be. The best way to practice chord reading is to play by reading lead sheet with chord chart. This is how a lead sheet looks like:

You can quickly search for the notes included in a chord symbol here.

6. Rhythm is the main obstacle
After thorough understanding of all the rules #1-5 above, some pianists who went through the classical learning path (I am one of them) still can’t play nice and soothing piano accompaniment. It is due to the ability to play rhythmically. This is the most challenging part to master. I find it very hard to explain through words. Music is so indescribable. I will write some other post about rhythm.

At the meantime, stay tuned and learn free piano lessons from Pianologist.

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15 Comments

  • Bena

    Reply Reply July 6, 2007

    goood tips! :)

  • KCLau

    Reply Reply July 6, 2007

    Glad that you like them!

  • Chip Boaz

    Reply Reply July 9, 2007

    Nice stuff here you guys, I could really use an article like this with some of my high school jazz students. I appreciate the notation and clarity too – that’s hard to find in blogs sometimes. I’ve done some stuff like this in a section of my blog I call “Musician’s Corner” – you can check out my blog, The Latin Jazz Corner at: http://www.chipboaz.com/blog

    Nothing on piano yet, but it is coming! Thanks again for the nice resource!

  • KCLau

    Reply Reply July 9, 2007

    Nice to see you here Chip Boaz. I will drop by your blog.

  • miranda

    Reply Reply February 19, 2008

    Good tips… I’m a singer and I accompany myself on the piano. I’d love to see an article for the singer songwriter on beefing up their piano solos and song breaks :)

  • qleyo

    Reply Reply December 5, 2008

    Thanks so much for this!

  • Johnny Smith-Wilson

    Reply Reply July 23, 2009

    Another thing you can do is you alot of motive. make chord progessions and the use of V to I. and the use of I-IV-V. dont forget the circle of fifths progression and mode mixture like I-iv-V. Just wanted to add that in.

  • Piano

    Reply Reply August 8, 2009

    Can you play a 10th? like you said from C-E

  • Piano

    Reply Reply August 8, 2009

    Good stuff anyway :D

  • Morgan

    Reply Reply December 17, 2009

    I have my 1st accompaniment experience coming up in only a few days and your blog really helped! I added a ton of chords that really make it sound amazing. Thanks and wish me luck! :)

  • Jay

    Reply Reply January 30, 2010

    Hey KCLAU,
    Do you have any posts about some basic accompaniment rhythm patterns?

    -J

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply February 17, 2010

      Hi,
      Havent got time to put up more tutorial.
      Thanks for visiting.

  • Kate

    Reply Reply April 9, 2011

    Have you been able to pot anything about the pattern et?

  • Alex

    Reply Reply January 26, 2012

    Great article..!!!

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