Piano Accompaniment for Newbies (3 Steps)
Get free weekly lessons, practice tips, and downloadable resources to your inbox!
Do you ever feel like your piano accompaniment sounds a little bit amateur? If so, it may surprise you that a lush contemporary piano sound is just 3 simple steps away. In today’s Quick Tip, we’ll show you how to overcome two common bad habits piano players make in their accompaniment patterns. Then we’ll show you how to create a richer accompaniment texture. You’ll learn:
- 2 Habits to Avoid
- 1 Easy Harmonic Upgrade
- 2 Driving Accent Patterns
If you are a beginner or intermediate piano student, you will find this material well within your grasp. In fact, even if you are an advanced pianist, you’ll find yourself coming back to these techniques again and again simply because they sound great!
Characteristics of Amateur Piano Accompaniment
First things first, amateur isn’t a dirty word, even if it sometimes has that stigma. In fact, the word “amateur” has its origin in the Latin word amāre meaning “lover.” In the English language, an amateur is someone who participates in an activity for love rather than money. By this definition, all Olympic athletes are amateurs! However, the term also has negative connotations as well, ranging from untrained to incompetent. Today’s lesson will ensure that no matter what your background is, your amor for the piano will shine through in your piano accompaniment, without any of the negative associations.
If you are a newbie to the instrument, then you’ll want to know which piano accompaniment practices are associated with an amateur sound in the negative sense. First, pianists with little training often over use a technique commonly know as “chording.” Here is an example of how chording might be applied to a 4-1-6-5 progression in F Major.
This is certainly a valid approach and many examples of pop music employ similar accompaniment patterns. Still, the triads especially in the above example could use a harmonic upgrade. Secondly, many beginners resort to the use of basic arpeggio shapes in the left hand to fill out the texture. Here is an example of the same progression with an arpeggiated left hand pattern.
Again, this is not necessarily bad, but it does lean a little too heavily on the lower register of the instrument for many settings. So how can you avoid playing these types of accompaniments?
Step 1: One Chord Wonder
If you’ve played piano accompaniments like the ones above, then you’ve likely learned harmony from a classical piano perspective. In fact, almost all beginner piano methods draw heavily from the harmonic vocabulary of classical music. That’s because triadic chord shapes are easy to understand and allow for logical sequencing. However, contemporary pop music tends to depart from purely triadic harmony. Instead, we often find chords with extra or omitted notes. But that doesn’t mean that contemporary piano music is complicated—it’s just different. Fortunately, Jonny has a system that allows newbies to learn contemporary harmonic language with ease. It’s called the One Chord Wonder.
What is this unique chord? There’s actually not just one answer. Notice that there’s not a major 3rd or a minor 3rd in this shape. Instead, this chord contains two perfect 4th intervals. Consequently, this quartal sound has chameleon-like properties that work well in a wide variety of harmonic situations. A common way to understand this chord is as an F(sus2) (“sus” is short for suspended). In “sus” chords, the 3rd is replaced by an adjacent note. The number after the “sus” indicates which adjacent note is replacing the 3rd. For instance, in an F(sus2) chord, the 3rd above the root (A) is replaced with the 2nd above the root (G).
However, this quartal stack will work over virtually any bass note in F major. The resulting combinations provide beautiful alternative chord voicings that are appropriate for a more contemporary pop sound. Here is the same 4-1-6-5 progression featuring a harmonic upgrade courtesy of the one chord wonder technique.
As you see, small note adjustments make a big difference! If you want learn more about the one chord wonder, check out our Pop & Contemporary Accompaniment: The One Chord Wonder course.
Step 2: Driving Accents
In this section, you’ll learn how to add rhythmic interest to your accompaniment without getting in the way of a vocalist or the bass player. The key is to play driving accents in the middle register of the instrument with your right hand using the one chord wonder shape. Consider the following example.
Pretty cool, huh? The example above applies the following syncopated accent pattern over the entire chord progression. (T=Top, M=Middle, B=Bottom)
The result is a truly contemporary piano accompaniment pattern that most newbies can master…and it is only amateur in the best sense of the word.
Let’s try another possibility. Consider the following accent pattern, which is twice as long.
When applied to the 4-1-6-5 chord progression, you’ll get the following piano accompaniment.
Great job! The next step is to play these accompaniments with one of the backing tracks that are included with this lesson. You can download the lesson sheet and backing tracks from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also easily transpose the lesson material with a single click using our Smart Sheet Music.
Step 3: Inverted One Chord Wonder
In this section, we’ll show you how build up the energy of your accompaniment using the inverted one chord wonder. This brighter sound will allow you the opportunity to change up the accompaniment texture when needed. To play an inverted one chord wonder, we’ll re-voice the right hand slightly higher on the piano in the shape of a root position F(sus2) chord.
From this upper one chord wonder position, we’ll apply the same driving accent patterns. As a result, you’ll now have two additional accompaniment options.
And with that my piano friends, you are ready to create beautiful, modern piano accompaniments that will establish you as a serious pianist in any crowd.
If you enjoyed this lesson, you will also love the following courses:
- Pop & Contemporary Piano Accompaniment: Popstinatos (Levels 2 & 3)
- Two Hand Coordination Exercises 1 (Levels 1 & 2)
- Two Hand Coordination Exercises 2 (Levels 2 & 3)
- Pop Accompaniment Patterns 1 (Levels 2)
- Pop Accompaniment Patterns 2 (Levels 3)
Thanks for learning with us. We’ll see you next time!
Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by Jonny May
More Free Lessons
Learn to play Mariah Carey's modern-era holiday classic, “All I Want for Christmas Is You," as a beautiful contemporary jazz piano ballad.
'Tis the season to let your heart find home with a warm and tender jazz piano ballad arrangement of "I'll Be Home for Christmas."
In honor of Thanksgiving, I wanted to express my gratitude towards music. Hopefully, this will inspire you to reflect upon how music has impacted your life in a positive way.
Looking for downloads?
Subscribe to a membership plan for full access to this Quick Tip's sheet music and backing tracks!
The Piano With Jonny Membership
Guided Learning Tracks
View guided learning tracks for all music styles and skill levels
Complete lessons and courses as you track your learning progress
Download Sheet Music and Backing Tracks
Engage with other PWJ members in our member-only community forums
Become a better piano player today. Start your free 14-day trial today!