The Value of the Accompaniment Program
Found in: Accompaniment
Cindy B., Illinois
I’ve talked with Neil and with a Simply Music teacher friend of mine, and both have communicated their own feelings of awe and excitement about accompaniment skills. In my own traditional background, I have gained accompaniment skills in a confined way, really only major and minor chords. I’d really like to hear what everyone has to say about what they see in the accompaniment program, and what doors it has opened for them and/or their students. WHY is it so great?
Kate H., Australia
My prior musical journey leads me to believe that the Accompaniment Program is really one of the most valuable tools we can offer our students. I had years of classical lessons and music in my life as a kid. Loved it – had a good teacher, did lots of singing – all classical and lots of small ensemble singing. All dictated by the page and the score. Naturally I loved pop, rock and folk music – Joni Mitchell etc., but never considered myself anything but a classical musician.
As I got into my 20s I kind of stopped some of my music – family etc, but then later was asked to sing on a CD that my sister-in-law was working on. The style was folk/pop/ambient/world/Enya – styled, and I loved it. Mostly I sang to exact scores written out for me – lots of demanding close-harmony singing and odd time signatures, but I remember once I had to record without the music – I was taught the melody by ear. I felt a real sense of panic – where were the notes and the music!! I realised that I was so page-bound that it was stifling any creativity.
I also met someone who encouraged me to start writing music. And the same panic struck – how can I remember it if it’s not written out! And then I started to put piano lines into the music and try to sing at the same time. It always looks effortless for jazz musicians and rock singers, but it was so difficult at first. I’ve overcome it through sheer hard work and learning to “let go”, but feel I was so held back by my background. It is unbelievably liberating to be able to write and perform and express and improvise etc. So, it’s the long way around but amazing now.
Finding SM was so timely, and confirmed all my discoveries. Do you remember seeing great “social” pianists who can play anything and have a huge repertoire and can transpose for someone who can’t sing so high, and who can play a song after hearing a tune hummed to them, and work out the chords? And how dynamic this sort of performer is? (Not stuck in a lonely room rattling out scales and arpeggios…) This is the sort of player that SM will produce. They will be sensitive, incredibly musical, versatile and dynamic. And I really believe that the Accompaniment Program will do these things. I do hope this helps, as it comes heartfelt from me.
Carrie G., Arizona
I’ll share my experiences with accompaniment, but keep in mind that I am no where nearly as eloquent as some of the teachers who have been teaching this method longer.
I, too, have a traditional background in learning and teaching piano; very traditional training. I never really had the opportunity to accompany until I was in college, when I decided to go away to a summer camp to be the accompanist for the camps’ theatre troop. Growing up, I was a very good student in my teacher’s studio, and got B’s & C’s in my one and ONLY semester of piano performance at Arizona State University. I was very advanced and could read music and perform well enough to earn her praise on a weekly basis. She even asked me to teach her students while she went away on Summer vacation. I thought accompanying would be a piece of cake and went away feeling very confident that I would be able to accompany a bunch of kids at summer camp. What can I say, I was twenty-something!
It didn’t go nearly as well and I had hoped. I was required to transpose, which I couldn’t do AT ALL! I didn’t even know what it was! I didn’t know how to simplify the music put in front of me, and as result struggled with being perfect in my performance of the notes on the page. This was, after all, how I was taught: to focus on being able to play every single note and being very precise in reading the notes – ALL the notes without errors or omissions. I was very good at that, but I was horrible at accompanying
Like you, I had only a limited knowledge of how to use major and minor chords. I could play all my cadences and inversions, arpeggios etc., but no one EVER showed me what to do with them. Perhaps your teacher was better at teaching accompaniment, but mine was not the least bit interested in training accompanists.
Now, I am thrilled to able to play and use chords in a practical, functional and simple way. I can now sit down and play any song I want and sing along and it’s relaxing! I’m not stressing out about getting all the notes right. I AM ENJOYING PLAYING MUSIC! My formerly traditional students (now SM students) are completely thrilled to be able to do this. I’ve told them all to go find fake books so we can start playing more songs with progressively difficult chords.
For someone who never learned what to do all those chords, arpeggios and cadences except play them faster, it is very exciting, empowering, and liberating! My inner musician can express itself, instead of just regurgitating music. Using that little triangle to visualize in my head that to make a certain chord by just changing one little note is so easy and uncomplicated = SIMPLE! I can now play ANY chord I want, I just need to keep practicing and developing my own style. I can get out my Billy Joel/James Taylor/Beatles/Norah Jones EVEN!!! song book, focus on the chords and play away with a smile on my face and I’m singing, and not badly, might I add! (BTW, my son Joe tells me that I just need to lose a few pounds, tone up and I could be a rock star! He’s so good? for my ego. I’m 37 and way past rock star age, but to him, I’m still a rock star. He’s 9, so in about a year he’ll change his mind).
To me, that is exciting. And what is more is that the response I get now when I play is completely opposite to the response I got when I would sit down and play a Beethoven Sonata. Yawns vs. HEY THAT WAS GREAT let’s hear some more! And when my students see me playing and singing along to the Little Mermaid, or for my adults the Beatles, and they learn that they can do this in a VERY SHORT AMOUNT of time, that is exciting for them!
The best part, and I’m being completely selfish, is that it only took me two hours to sit down and learn these chords – 2 hours and 26 years!
Karen G., Tennessee
I definitely see great value in the Accompaniment Program … if for nothing other than the psychological boost it gives my students when they realize that they have, in a very short time, acquired skills that open up an infinite number of songs to them. Even if they aren’t that interested in singing, they have the tools. The potential is there for them to sing if they choose to, it is there for them to play while others sing or play another instrument. Sometimes I find humming is easier to do than singing, and that’s what
we do in lessons at times.
I have a friend who is a songwriter (living just outside Nashville, there are many, many songwriters here). I was always incredibly impressed with the way he played keyboard. Then, I started teaching SM and he came over and played some. All of a sudden it hit me in a way it never had before that all he was doing was taking basic chords and playing them as broken chords that made what he did sound really complicated. I never saw it before, but because by that time I had developed the ability to see the shapes of the chords, etc., I could see what he was doing. I also saw how he was able to take a simple piece and jazz it up using his accompaniment skills because he had an understanding of how chords worked. He took a simple piece, and played it in a very rich manner (but didn’t sing), because he was able to take the chords inherent in the piece and form an accompaniment to go along with the melody. Interestingly enough, he originally started with piano as a child, grew frustrated, switched to guitar, gained his understanding of chords and how they worked, and then applied that knowledge to the keyboard.
So why should you get excited about the Accompaniment Program even if you don’t like to sing? Because I believe if you can see ANY benefit for your students, you owe it to them to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone for their benefit. Not easy at first, but it does get easier. I still feel uncomfortable singing in front of other people, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was when I first started.
Hilary C., Western Australia
What’s so great about the Accompaniment Program? Well …err everything!
At the beginning of the Acc. Prog. I tell my students that I am about to give them a key to a great chest of treasures that will let them into the wonderful world of music.
The Acc. program is a great counter-balance for the playing-based nature of SM. When I think it the best time for the student I introduce it and call it one way of reading music – which it is. I get students to find the chords (I-IV-V-I) in order, before they play – to get their hands over what they are looking for and, (in the background) to get the ear acclimatized to the I-IV-V-I connection – it centers the aural as well as the tactile – mostly at this point it’s just, “let’s find the chords we’re going to be using” – not technical jargon).
(I don’t do it for Amazing Grace in C, as it is known). I explain that I-IV-V are the backbone of western music (at least till C20th). I also tell them that if they were playing the guitar all they would need would be these three chords in the easiest positions and a capo, but the piano is a different story.
It is a great consolidation of ensemble playing which builds on what starts in Level 1 – the skills needed for this are much easier than the pianistic demands of other playing and it introduces the world of music-making with others – which in turn gives rise to peripheral learning – the need to listen, to keep in time, to balance …… etc, etc , etc. All this of course feeds into the positive SM experience.
At my suggestion, one of my students brought a friend in to sing a pop song she was working on – it was a great opportunity to deal with what can happen when making music with others – in this case, not making it a competition.
It is an introduction to analysis – Cross-pollinating with the Blues, together, with the I chord given, we analyze Am Gr & Auld Lang Syne in C, D and E and I show them how the same chord ( I-IV-V ) is in the same place in each song – then I get them to write out the chord chart. I explain that all music can be reduced to a chord chart (my language is pitched to the recipient). Then I get them to play in the keys they know. Later on when they are at home with all keys I get them to pick a chord and make that the one chord and go from there – I love seeing the expression on their faces when they see how easy it is. Using the ‘dictionary’ to find I-IV-V is sooooooo helpful.
It is a basis on which to launch into improvisation, composition and transposition – a playing-based source of sounds that they can manipulate creatively. Actually the more I think about it the more I see transposition as the key to the other two.
I find Jackson Blues (because it is so mindless by now) a great piece for transposition outside the Acc. Prog. Together we decide on a I chord, find the IV-V (using the formula) then of course we need to workout what ‘adjustments’ are needed to get the ‘same’ sound – i.e. maintain intervallic relationships. This in turn can touch on the organisation of sound i.e. scales – but I don’t go there in detail. One of my older students, who is semi-retired, gets great pleasure out of transposing his foundation pieces as well as the Acc. program – on his own volition.
Something else I encourage my students to do is use the skills of ‘She’ll be Comin’ and ‘Dreams’ Arr. 3 to add variety and panache to their accomps. This leads into the area of aesthetic choice – this treatment is not appropriate for all the pieces they are working on.
This, I think, shows the integration of the SM method – everything is in the programme for a reason – to build wholistic musicians with reliable skills.
It sounds as though I spend an age on this but I don’t – it’s just tiny bites when it seems appropriate. Here I have gathered together my thoughts and hope this is helpful.