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On this website, it says,

In elementary piano, the left hand (lower notes) typically plays chords, while the right hand plays the melody. If you're playing pop or rock and singing, you might want to play the chords with the right hand and the bass note of each chord with the left hand.

I've seen similar comments on other websites. When you're singing (or accompanying a singer), why is it more common to play the chords with the right hand? Is it so that the chords cover roughly the same range as the singing voice?

If that's the case, what would be the best thing to do when accompanying a singer with a deeper voice, e.g. covering roughly the range of the bass clef? If you also play the chords in the range of the bass clef, would you then play an even lower bass note with the left hand (which would make for some pretty messy sheet music), or would you switch hands and turn the bass line into something like a second melodic line played by the right hand in the range of the treble clef, above the melody sung by the singer?

On the other hand, if you stick with chords played by the right hand in the range of the treble clef and a bass line played by the left hand in the range of the bass clef, and if your bass line is a bit more melodic than just playing the bass or root note (which is more common in the case of inverted chords?) of each chord, is there a danger that this bass line will clash with the melody sung by a singer with a deeper voice?

  • Not a full answer, but an accompaniment is often about providing a backdrop. While you can certainly have an instrument harmonizing with the vocal melody or duplicating the melody, you frequently want to provide some fullness to the sound. As for vocal range vs. the register of the song, those things can be determined somewhat independently by the composer -- and generally you don't want to abandon the middle and higher registers just because the vocalist is a bass (etc.) as decreasing the dynamic range limits your options and can result in a muddy sound. – Matthew Read Jun 11 '15 at 15:04
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    For a deeper voice you should get out of the way, take the LH lower and the RH higher. – user207421 Jun 11 '15 at 23:59
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When there's no vocals, the r.h. needs to play the melody. It may well put chords in under this, but the l.h. takes on the job of bass line and chords, often.

As soon as a vocal line is sung, there's no need for the r.h. to play the melody, as that's taken care of - unless it's doubled up, or harmonised. So the r.h. can take over chords, and other embellishments, while the bass line is played with l.h. There's usually no danger of the bass line getting in the way of a lower voice, even within the same register, as the timbres are different, and the way the line for bass goes is usually very different from the way a melody line is sung, albeit at the same approximate pitch. Bass lines have no lyrics, so the chance of bass and vocals stepping on each others' toes is minimal.

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I think it's not really about ranges, it's really about convenience. I'm going to ignore the possibilities of left-handed dominance in this response also :P

When playing on "elementary piano" alone, one wants to accompany themselves while also playing the melody. That requires two hands, and it is traditional and natural for the higher part to play the melody - the right hand. The bass hand therefore has to fill in the chords while some of the fancier, rhythmic work is handled by the dominant hand in a higher register. That doesn't have to do with octaves or anything, it could be in any octave, but it has to do with the way harmonies harmonize melodies.

When playing accompaniment, the singer / lead instrumentalist / lead band section takes precedence. This means the whole piano, as an instrument with both hands, is accompanying as background. Therefore the focus for the left hand, which is lower, is to fill in the lower sounds, while the focus for the right hand is to fill in higher sounds, both harmony. Due to the way inversions in music have developed and the primitive way that gives the lowest pitch a precedence, there is often a pressing reason to play a specific low note in a chord, so the bass hand will often play just that note, while the right fills in the rest. What I mean by a pressing reason: the bass hand wants to sound more "melodic," although usually one would say it adheres to stepwise motion, which is why inversions are often necessary. This doesn't mean the bass hand is doing more work - that would be inconvenient, since the right hand is dominant. It just means the bass hand is controlling inversions.

In the rarer occasions when the bass DOES have the melody, accompaniment actually gets rather sparse so as not to overpower the bass. It has to contrast, so it usually becomes breathy "oohs" in singing or softer dynamics in orchestras/bands. Here of course the bass melody might not be stepwise, it may jump around, so the harmony serves only to fill in chords and, again, tries very hard not to sound like a melody over a bassline, but to allow the basses to be prominent.

Of course at higher levels, only the pianist, the composer, and God really understand what is happening. Everyone else just appreciates the sound.

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