Accompanying yourself as a singer can be a daunting task. The main challenge is dividing your focus between playing and singing. The secondary challenge is to keep the performance interesting and engaging for the listener. In this article, I’m going to share a few strategies that helped me improve my self-accompaniment skills.
Practice Scales in All Keys
Running through major and natural minor scales is a great place to start. At the beginning of each practice session, play major and natural minor scales in every key. For added benefit, try practicing with a metronome in different tempos.
This is a great exercise to warm up your fingers, boost your muscle memory, and improve ear training. It will also help you pay attention to rhythmic flow. Once you feel comfortable doing so, try practicing without looking at the piano.
Start with Simple Grooves
A great place to begin is with simple grooves using the left hand. There are so many grooves you can play. But simple whole note, half note, and quarter note variations are standard in most accompaniments—especially ballads.
As you get used to playing standard rhythmic patterns in time, start incorporating different combinations into your routine. For example, you can play quarter notes with your left hand, while you’re playing whole notes with your right hand.
Roots, Power Chords, and Octaves
Try using your left hand to play root notes, power chords, and octaves. In most cases, you’ll feel inclined to play the root and the fifth degree of each chord more than anything else. This is especially common in genres such as pop and folk. But even for jazz and R&B pianists, it’s a solid starting point.
You can also add variations by playing inverted chords with your right hand. Most piano players who are self-taught learn chords online and assume that there’s only one way to play them. But by simply changing the order of the notes, you can express different colors and emotions.
For instance, there are three ways you can play a C major chord: root position, first inversion, and second inversion. Likewise, there are four ways you can play a C major seventh chord, with the added third inversion option.
The more you practice playing inverted chords, the better. In situations where you want to improvise on the spot, you can rely on inversions to avoid panicking about playing the wrong note.
Arpeggios can save a performance from becoming stagnant. In fact, well-placed arpeggios will bring rhythmic excitement to almost any piece of music. Instead of playing the chord tones altogether, play them one by one, in the order and rhythm of your choosing.
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