Accompany Yourself on the Piano

Published: 11th September 2009
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Have you ever wanted to accompany yourself or others while singing? The desire to do so is one of the key motivations for a surprising number of piano students. Yet so many students feel intimidated by this idea. Some days, it seems hard enough to play the piano piece by itself. How will you ever learn to sing at the same time - and carry a tune?

Don't give up! The ability to accompany yourself on the piano while singing is a skill like any other. And like any skill, it can be taught. (Didn't I say the same thing about improvisation not too long ago?)

If you already have a good grounding in piano basics, such as knowing the notes, knowing your scales, reading music - great! You have a very firm foundation for learning how to accompany yourself. Now you can learn to read a "lead sheet," which is a kind of musical shorthand. (Don't worry, if you've already learned to read traditional music, you'll find this a piece of cake.)

A lot of pop, rock, country, and other contemporary music is noted down in this non-classical format. These lead sheets are collected in books called "fake books." In its simplest form, the lead sheet consists of a single line of notes that pick out the melody, accompanied by chord notations above.

In accompanying yourself or others using a lead sheet approach, the vocalist takes the melody, and the accompanist plays the chords. Pretty simple, really.

But wait, you say, don't you have to pick out the melody with the right hand, while singing it too? Actually - and this is the big secret of accompanying yourself - you don't. In fact, it sounds better if you don't.

Remember, the goal of an accompanist - even when accompanying himself - should be to get out of the way of the vocalist. The singer has the melody, the voice has the spotlight. If the piano is plunking out the melody underneath, it pulls attention away from the voice.

If you want to sound great when you're accompanying yourself, you'll need to try something called "chord piano." This is, as the name implies, a style of playing in which the piano plays primarily chords, and leaves the melody to the vocalists, or perhaps another instrument.

Here's what you need to do to accompany yourself and sound great doing it:

• Learn to sing the melody (if you can't do this, what's the point?)

• Play the chords, as noted in the lead sheet, with your right hand

• With your left hand, play the roots - your left hand takes on the role of the string bass in a jazz trio

Not only will your music sound better this way, but it's easier too! All you have to do is look ahead on the lead sheet to the next chord that's coming up, and pick out a bass line with your left hand.

With a bit of practice and some guidance from your teacher, you too can learn to accompany yourself on the piano.

This article is written by Yoke Wong . She has published a series of piano courses , free piano lessons, piano sheet music , and many piano playing articles.

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