How To Accompany Group Singing

Auld Lang SyneImage via WikipediaLadyD piano thanks the many readers who have asked for tips regarding playing the piano to accompany singers.

Here's my story.

I started playing the piano for fashion shows when I was a little one many moons ago. From there, I graduated to playing piano for choirs in Junior High and High School. Later on, I learned to accompany lead singers and church vocalists.

1. Accompanying Group Singing

Tis the season for group singing, and keyboard players will be very much in demand on such occasions. Accompanying singers is a specialized skill, so I thought that some tips on the subject might be worthwhile.


If you can transpose, or are playing by ear, you will want to chose the best key for each song. A safe, average vocal range  is the octave C to C, which can be exceeded by one or two notes in either direction when necessary. Suppose you are accompanying Auld Lang Syne. A good key would be F, which makes the lowest note C and the highest note D.

Example:

r.h. melody single notes- C, F, F, F, A, G, F, G, A, G, F, F, A, C, D...

A short introduction will serve to announce the song, establish the key, and set the tempo. This last is especially important for keeping the group together. A typical introduction can be fashioned from the last four or two bars of the song. (Since Auld Lang Syne is relatively slow, two bars are sufficient.)

Example:

CG/ CEA to G
DD/ ADF
BB/ ABbD, BbBb/ ABbD
CC/ EBbC
FF/ ACF
CC to low F
CC/ EBbC

2. When accompanying a group it is often wise to pound out the melody, doubling it in octaves if possible. 

CC/ EBbC
F/ FACF, F/FACF
DD/ FADF
DD/ ADFA
BbBb/ GBbDG
BbBb/ FBbDF
CC/ GBbEG
CC/ ACEA, to GG
F/ FACF, F/ FACF
FF/ ACEbA
AA/ CEAC
BbBb/ DFBbD

Once you are sure that the group knows the tune you can stop playing the melody and use a more rhythmic form of accompaniment. But notice that the right hand still touches on the main melody notes, to keep the singers on pitch.

Example:

CC/ EBbC
F/F, then FAC
DD/ FAD
BbBb/GBbD
CC/ GBbE
F/FAC
F/ ACEb
BbBb/D
BbBb/DFBb

When you come to the end of the tune you may want the singers to go on to another verse. You can signal them to do so by playing a "turnaround" emphasizing the dominant (i.e. the fifth note of the scale, which would be C in the key of F).

BbBb/DFBbD
AA/ CFC
FF/CFA, FF/CFA
DD/ BDF
CC/BbEG
CC/BbDF
CC/ BbEG
C#C#/ AEA, to G
DD/ADF
BbBb/ ABbD, BbBb/ ABbD
CC/ EBbC
FF/ ACF
CC/CC (3 times)


To create a final ending for the song, slow the tempo slightly, hold the last note (I have added a tremelo in the left hand),and then cut it off with a sharp "button" consisting of a tonic chord (i.e. a chord on the first note of the scale). Notice that as the tempo broadens I have provided an upper octave doubling, to give a fuller sound.

Example:

C#C#/ AEA, to G
DD/ ADF
BbBb/ DFBbD (twice)
CC/ CEBbC
FF(tremelo)/ FACF (hold it out)
F/ FACF

Now, when you follow the soloist, remember not to push the rhythm... just follow the artist. When the soloist wants to pause and hold a note, play a fill or arpeggiate a chord, hold it with the sustain pedal while she catches her breath and continues with the next phrase. You, as the piano player, can be the star at the beginning and end to the song with a few melody notes along the way.

When you are invited to play at a party, it is a good idea to do some advance preparation. Make a list of the songs you expect to use and decide on the keys for all of them. Have your music easily accessible, to eliminate fumbling between songs. Then relax, sing along as you play, and enjoy the party. 'Tis the season...

Best,
-- LadyD

P.S.  My friend Yoke Wong has a great music resource you might be interested in!


Learn To Play Your Favorite Christmas Carols Now
Covering Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, and many more
www.ChristmasPianoDVD.com















"The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." B.B.King
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