When I'm playing piano as an accompaniment to singing, I pull up chord charts for the song and wing it. But I can't seem to figure out how to make the piano sound interesting.

For example, the song I'm playing at the moment is in 4/4 and has the chords: Cmaj7 F#7#11 Fmaj7 F/G F/Ab G7sus. The first three chords take a measure each, and the last three chords all together take up one measure. At the moment, I am just playing them vanilla. So I play the Cmaj7 and hold it for the full measure. Then I play the next chord and hold for a full measure, etc.

But when I hear people playing accompaniments, they play lots of notes in between the chords, with cool syncopations. And sometimes the notes they play aren't belonging to the chord, so they sound quite interesting. Are there some go-to rules I can use for making it sound better? Things like "a sixteenth note before playing the next chord, play the root of the current chord"? Improvisation and experimentation haven't worked for me, so I need help!

  • 1
    If it is, then simplest would be to just push every chord except the first by 1/16th. (This is not racist!) White guys push by 1/8, black guys by 1/16… that's the difference between Elton John & Stevie Wonder. – Tetsujin Nov 26 '20 at 18:15
  • how about C,Cmaj7,C6,Cmaj ? – Albrecht Hügli Nov 26 '20 at 18:36
  • @Tetsujin interesting you mentioned Elton John, his rhythm section does very few pushes of either variety but his melodies are filled with 16th syncopations! Also your comment is not racist but is way too generalized. How about “Love And Happiness” by Al Green? 8th pushes galore. “Pick up the Pieces” by AWB, lots of 16th pushes. – John Belzaguy Nov 26 '20 at 22:42
  • @Tim nope it's Love on Top by Beyonce! – Alan Nov 26 '20 at 22:58

Arpeggios! They are your friend. The more you play them and the more chords whose arpeggios you play, the more often you will think to yourself "Hey, I've heard that before, played by someone good on a real record!" Once you've got an arpeggio down, ascending and descending, play it starting on each note of the chord. Also start on the top note, then ascending arpeggiate up from the bottom and vice versa. Don't hesitate to make up your own drills. This is exploring, and there is a whole universe to explore.

  • Thanks! So, I have played around with arpeggios and often they work. Elvis's Can't Help Falling in Love is a good example. My issue: arpeggios tell me what notes to play, but not when to play them. Elvis uses triplets. Arpeggios that play notes on the beats sound booooooring. Any advice on when to play the notes? – Alan Nov 26 '20 at 22:20

Are you the complete accompaniment (i.e. there isn't a bass player?) Then your first job is to provide a strong, rhythmic bass line with your left hand. Right hand can play chords, arpeggios, sometimes support the vocal melody by doubling it, invent a counter-melody...

  • Yep it's just me and the piano. The stuff you're saying around a rhythmic baseline in the left hand, and other stuff in the right. I am 100% on board, and that's what I do. I am wondering though, what rhythmic motifs can I use in my right hand to make it sound more interesting? At the moment I play the chord on the 1. Maybe also on the 3. How can I get that sounding more interesting? You mentioned doubling the melody... personally I am not a huge fan of that, except for helping my vocal pitch accuracy from time to time. Reason being, it sounds rhythmically un-interesting. – Alan Nov 26 '20 at 22:26

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