Thursday, January 31, 2008

Accompanying At The Piano


Accompanying is the act of playing along with another musician, most frequently a singer or choral ensemble (though it can just as easily be with another instrument). Though the term has gained a sort of stigma that implies background music, this is in no way the case. Modern bands that contain vocals also contain accompaniment; the band is considered to be accompanying the singer. The fact that they are playing the music for the vocalist to sing to does not at all diminish their importance. Accompanying a musician is simply adding another layer to the song. What, after all, would the song be without the band accompanying the vocals?

Accompanying is found frequently in choral groups. Choral instructors are often accompanying their students on piano during rehearsal; a new pianist is brought in for the performance. A piano isn't the only thing necessary for accompanying a choral ensemble, however. Full orchestras are often used, especially for theater performances. Consider a Broadway performance. We think of the orchestra as just another part of the song, a vital part at that. That orchestra is accompanying the singers and performers on stage.

Accompanying an instrument, vocalist, or choral ensemble requires great skill on the part of the musician performing the accompaniment. A solid background in sight reading is a must, as is the ability to adapt to the other musicians' style -- though accompanying a modern musician requires far less of a style adaptation than it used to. In earlier days of accompanying (the Baroque period, to be exact), the accompanying musician used a type of notation called basso continuo to perform the accompaniment. Basso continuo was not full sheet music, however; it only gave the accompanying musician the bass line and general notes to be played above it. The style and specific changes of the piece were up to the accompanying musician to work out with the lead. Now, however, accompanying musicians are usually given full sheet music with copious notes as to the intended style. But even with the full sheet music, accompanying musicians must understand the style of the other musicians and be able to follow their lead, making accompanying an art all of its own.
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