Working With Singers: Goals & Expectations
Welcome to lesson 1 in this course on accompanying singers & vocalists. Moving from playing solo jazz piano to accompanying a singer can be a daunting task for many musicians.
The information covered in this lesson will give you an idea of what is expected of you as an accompanist and give you some tips and insight on working with singers to help them achieve their best performance.
We start by outlining the differences between the human voice and the piano and then move onto a number of important considerations that you should keep in mind whenever you are working with a vocalist.
The Voice Vs. The Piano
The voice as an instrument has a limited range in comparison to the piano’s massive 8 octaves. Some singers do boast a 5 octave range, but it’s much more common for singers to have between 2- 3 octaves.
Each voice is unique in its strengths and weaknesses. A good accompanist will feature the strengths and support the weaknesses through their playing. Even the most trained singer will need help with their pitch at times, this lesson covers some great ways to help a singer sound their best.
How To Accompany Jazz Vocalists
As the accompanying pianist, you want to follow the interpretation of the singer. A major component of that is the style. Autumn Leaves is a great example of a song that can be called in a different style. You will hear the tune played as a ballad, with a Latin feel and also medium swing.
Another component in the interpretation is the tempo. Many great jazz standards are super fun fast, but it’s impossible to sing certain lyrics at uber speeds as well as sounding silly.
You will also need to follow the singer’s dynamics and expression, building where they build, softening where they do. It also might mean going Rubato, or out of tempo. Often modes of expression are more tied to the lyrics, rather than following the standard form. So you must stay ready for any unexpected changes in tempo and feel.
Experienced singers can signal you through, using hand gestures, body language, eye contact or even vocal cues.
For less experienced singers, it’s a good idea to ask questions before you start if anything is unclear. This will help them understand the information you need to make their singing shine.