Accompaniment Basics: Melody, Harmony & Bass
When accompanying a singer, there are some really easy ways to make that singer shine. That’s the job of the accompanying pianist, to support and enhance the singer’s performance.
In this lesson, we explore the key elements of an effective accompaniment. To do this we will discuss your role in terms of the melody, the harmony and the bass. We will use the tune "Autumn Leaves" to demonstrate and apply the concepts.
Playing The Melody When Accompanying A Singer
An important point is to now lay off the melody when accompanying singers. In the tradition of Billy Holiday, Jazz melodies are not meant to be sung the same way every time, so if you play the melody whilst someone sings the melody, there’s a good chance you won’t be in unison!
Whilst there are some exceptions as we will explore later in the course, the norm is to allow the singer space to interpret the melody, whilst supporting with bass and harmony.
Chords & Voicings For Accompanying Singers
This is an area where many jazz pianists miss the mark. Whilst interesting and complicated voicings are the bread and butter of most jazz, when accompanying a singer, simple is best.
By sticking with the pillars of the chords… 188.8.131.52, you will be giving harmonic support without crowding the airways.
The extensions 9, 11 & 13 and their alterations add color that jazz cats love, but they can very easily clash with the melody, making the singer sound flat, or sharp, when in reality, it’s just disharmony.
Simple voicings often work best here. We will explore the exact types of voicings that work well and apply these to the form of Autumn Leaves.
The Importance Of The Bass
Assuming you don’t have a bassist, you will need to add the lower end as the singer will be much more in the middle ranger of the piano.
Adding the bass creates a floor underneath that will make a more complete sound for the voice stand apart from. It also helps keep the singer squarely rooted in their melody line. Singers often need to hear the 1 in the bass. They rely on this.
Triads Notation & Worksheet File Type: pdf
7th Chords In All 12 Keys File Type: pdf
Stay away from chording too much in the lower registers of the piano. This can overpower the voice not only in volume but also the complexity of sound waves.
Playing octaves in your left hand is a nice way to create a full sounding bass.
Whole notes rhythms on the root of each chord works great. You can keep a steady rhythm in your left hand for the singer to feel and lean on at times.
It can be a challenge to strip your voicings back down to the primary chord tones and this will take time and patience for you to master.
As an exercise, learn to play through the whole form of Autumn Leaves without including any extensions or alterations in your voicings.
Work on 8 bars sections at a time and then add everything together.
- Remember that you can also play with the iRealPro app to ensure that your timing and tempo is accurate.
This is very clear, useful information. I am learning a lot. Thanks !
Hi Lyndol / Hayden, I would like to ask about using extensions when accompanying singer, in the beginning do you also recommend to avoid 7th notes and to use just simple triads or is 7th fine? When is it fine to use extensions – only during fills and solos? And finally how is it with accompanying other instruments – I suppose that it is fine to use extensions during comping while other instruments has a solo or is it similar like with singers or how is it?
Thanks for this Lyndol – this was super useful. I like to have the option of using rooted voicings to accompany myself singing (no band, except sometimes iReal Pro as a proxy band!) and the tip about keeping things simple was really helpful, thanks!
This is awesome..recently i learned a tom jobim song called chega de saudades for piano and voice..i learned it by ear listening to jobims playing..and now i can really understand what he was doing!Awesome
But what should i do if i have a singer and musician playing bass?Rootless voicings?
Thank you so much Lyndol (and Hayden od course)!
This lesson is a perfect starting point, when it comes to creating my own arrangements to accompany my wife (not yet married 😉 )…
I have to confess, that for me as a jazzpiano newby this lesson alone seems like a whole course (kind of 101) in accompaniment…
In other words: It‘s a bit overwhelming to digest all the information, presented in this one video.
What could help me (and perhaps others also) is a sort of step-by-step assignment list for all the things covered in this lessons…
Not sure, if I‘m clear here?!?
Perhaps someone has an idea
Thanks in advance