how to be a good piano accompanist

How To Be a Good Collaborative Pianist or Accompanist

Experience matters for pianists, and one great money-making way of getting experience is accompanying or collaborative piano work. You may work with solo vocalists or instrumental groups. The venues may be formal or casual. And the styles could vary from classical to pop.

Regardless of the genre or setting, there are useful skills to be learned through accompanying. Keep these tips in mind if you’re interested in pursuing a career (or a few gigs here and there) as a collaborative pianist, and of course, if you would like expert piano lessons in London at the London Piano Centre, we would love to hear from you.

Good Piano Accompanists Must Be Excellent Sight Readers

Sight reading is something that musicians either love or hate, and whether your relationship with sight reading is friendly or combative, as a collaborative pianist, you must become proficient. When an accompanist is able to read and play unfamiliar music with relative ease there is much more freedom in practice sessions. It gives you the ability to utilize the valuable time you have with the soloist or group you are working with.

 Another reason sight reading is a valuable asset to accompanists is that you are going to run into situations where your skill-set is needed at the last minute. Being able to read and “learn” music in a short amount of time will make you indispensable and get you hired.

Sight reading is a developed skill, just like anything else in music. Incorporating sight reading into your everyday piano practise  conditions your brain and fingers to read and play unfamiliar notes. Open your favorite book of Chopin Nocturnes and play one you haven’t worked on yet. Play a few accompaniments from a book of Italian love songs.  Pick a different genre or format each time. Be sure to sight read accompaniments and to become familiar with well-known vocal/instrumental pieces. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with enough vocal and instrumental repertoire you realize you’re not sight reading after all. 

You Must Have A Strong Sense of Time

We’ve all heard piano soloists push and pull the tempo to dramatic effect, but if you accompany a vocalist that way, you’ll never get hired again. To successfully perform with other musicians, communication is key. Ask the soloist where they’re breathing so you can mark it in your score. Determine the initial tempo and temp changes throughout the piece. Talk about phrasing and cut-offs to ensure you are feeling them together. Remember, you are not the centerpiece of this performance; it’s your job to frame the vocalist or instrumentalist’s performance. Follow the soloist. They are leading the piece. 

You Must Understand the Other Musician’s Music Plus Your Own

You are a partner in the endeavor of making music with whoever has hired you. Learn their music and become familiar with the ensemble outside of the allotted practice sessions. That way you can capitalize on the time you’re working together. Understanding the piece as a whole helps you interpret your part accurately. Look for things like the melody switching between parts or where the tempo changes. You then are able to anticipate what is coming and aren’t caught by surprise when you play with the ensemble. 

Collaborative Pianists Must be Flexible and Reliable 

You need to understand that as an accompanist, your schedule is tentative. When performing for competitions or in an academic setting, times are changed and you could be called at any moment to play. Plan your schedule accordingly and communicate with your performer. Another important thing is to be reliable. Make sure you’re always on time, if not early. There is nothing more stressful to a performer than their accompanist showing up late or not at all!

Get To Know the People You’re Playing For

Create a professional and well-grounded relationship with the vocalist or musician you’re accompanying. When there is mutual respect, the entire process is much more relaxed. As said before, communication is so important between a soloist and their accompanist. Familiarity makes communication much more natural.

You may even find that you are more than a collaborative musician under various circumstances. For instance, a nervous vocalist may ask to run through a few sections ad nauseum before an audition, or an instrumentalist may feel the urge to tune his or her instrument more than is necessary. This is your way of knowing that they are anxious, and you are there to help calm them down. Some performers enjoy chatting to stay loose – others prefer silence. You are there to help support their frame of mind.

Conclusion and Call To Action

If becoming a confident and accomplished collaborative pianist is your goal, the London Piano Centre can help you. Contact us at your earliest convenience to schedule a lesson, and entrust your pianistic development to instructors who are also experienced concert piansits. We are here to help you meet your personal and professional goals with piano lessons in Kensington, piano lessons in Chelsea, or piano lessons in Westminster.