Something has surfaced in my teaching quite a bit recently, and this is the subject of training accompanists. Typically, an accompanist is a pianist because the bulk of repertoire is written with piano specific accompaniments, or piano reductions of orchestra accompaniments. With a very few exceptions, this is the case in classically styled sacred music, probably even more so than it is in classical music itself. Then, when we consider the average church, most of them use piano or a keyboard instrument, where other classical chamber groups or orchestras may be lacking. With this in view, it becomes tremendously important for a ministry-minded pianist to learn how to accompany others in all sorts of settings from all types of music, whether it is classical rep, or the more common improvised accompaniment out of a hymnbook, or a choral arrangement, or the accompaniment for another instrumentalist.
There are many things to consider as an accompanist, with the biggest being that the accompanist must support, not dominate. This was always a bit of a challenge for me to grasp when I was first learning, especially when I was handed accompaniment parts for particularly exciting violin solos or vocal pieces. Nevertheless, this is arguably the most important thing for an accompanist to realize, for it is not only crucial in and of itself, but also effects every other part of how they play.
Moving on to the more practical side of things, some quick helps for learning to accompany are:
Count. A no-brainer? Maybe, but while most beginners are continually being hammered with repetitions of “1 2 3 4,” “1+2+3+4+,” “trip-l-et, trip-l-et, trip-l-et,” or the more appealing “straw-ber-ry, straw-ber-ry, straw-ber-ry” or some other such form of counting, more advanced musicians somehow loose track of this most important technique. Find the quarter beat (or other main beat) and stick with it. Tap your foot, nod your head, do anything to keep on track with the person you are accompanying.
Analyze. As the supporting musician, you have a very unique role. The music written to enhance the soloist is usually full of embellishments and ideas that duplicate those found in the solo or choral parts, but are often woven in so as not to draw direct attention. When preparing to accompany, spend some time with the score, and look to see how the accompaniment part and the solo part work together. Look for patterns that repeat between the parts, contrasting note values (maybe the solo has sixteenth notes and the piano is supporting by playing quarters or eighths), parallel vs. contrasting registers, etc. The more you know about what the other person is doing and how it relates to what you are doing, the better your prepared accompaniment will sound.
Listen. (A) If you can find a recording of the piece you are to accompany, spend some time and listen to it. If your part is a piano reduction or a piece that has had orchestrations added to it, listen for what orchestral instruments are used to enhance the mood and musicality of the piece in its full edition. Envisioning a tuba or a piccolo will make a difference in how you approach relating portions of the work.
Listen. (B) When practicing with the one whom you are to accompany, develop the habit of listening to them, rather than to yourself. This takes work and sometimes a little mind-over-matter technique, but is well worth the effort.
Practice. Here again, this may seem like a no-brainer. You may be surprised, however, by the difference there can be between only ever playing with the soloist and taking time to study your own part between rehearsals.
Here are some of our favorite books for young string soloists, with each arrangement including a beautiful piano accompaniment. These make excellent practice for church pianists in training!
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||Worship the King Easy Hymn Settings for Solo Violin and Piano. Composed by Kristin Campbell. Score and performance/accompaniment CD. Lorenz Publishing Company #30/2600L. Published by Lorenz Publishing Company (LO.30-2600L).
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