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(Apologies for any wrong terminology or ignorance - I'm relatively new to music!)

I have been learning to play arranger workstation (using auto-accompaniment) for the past three years with a music teacher. I had no real prior musical background (other than some forced violin and flute lessons in grade school and a year of drum lessons as a teenager) and found these past three years to be very helpful and educational as I have learned a lot about playing melody with the right hand and chords with the left (with some right-handed chords thrown in). I have progressed pretty quickly (according to my teacher) and am now starting to play small events with a guitarist friend. I started with a Yamaha PRS-443 and am now playing a Korg PA700.

I would now like to move on to learning to properly play two-handed piano (for now I would probably continue with my Korg arranger and possibly pick up a workstation or digital piano down the road) - not necessarily classical pieces, but I would like to be able to play rock, pop, and dance music with a band without using the auto-accompaniment. What are some good ways to go about this? I am interested in hearing about techniques and tips, as well as links to online lessons (paid or free). I am in my late thirties and have a busy career, but I try to devote about an hour a day to practicing.

  • Playing piano accompaniment without other instruments is pretty much completely different than playing keyboard parts in a pop/rock band. Piano accompaniment is a more extensive matter, but for pop keyboard parts, start listening to what the various instruments do in your arranger keyboards backing rhythms. If there's e.g. an organ part, listen to what the organ is playing in the rhythm variations, and try to replicate that. Keep in mind that you're only playing one instrument part, no more. But for piano accompaniment alone, you're the whole band, and that's a bigger question. – piiperi Feb 5 at 12:48
  • I had for school a subscription for the EASY PIANIO edition of SIKORSKY with the current hits, (there was also one for accordion and organ). It was very useful and helpful. But today you will find a lot of good tutorials on Youtube and chords to songs in the guitar tabs. What you may need now would be some theory basics in harmony, as chords and chords progression. For finding accompaniment patters you may try some classical sonatinas. I can't prevent myself promoting the Prelude nr. 1 in C by J.S. Bach. – Albrecht Hügli Feb 5 at 14:49
  • @AlbrechtHügli thanks - I have some theory basics (I still have a lot to learn) and am pretty good at figuring out the chords when using the auto-accompaniment. I obviously still have a lot to learn, but I have a fairly decent basic grasp of chords and progression. At this point I'm looking to learn to play accompaniment with other instruments, but what I'm mostly looking for is to learn technique. Most of the online lessons I've found assume I know nothing about chords and I'm looking to skip that (since I'm familiar with it already) and jump to actual playing technique. – Reverse Psychologist Feb 5 at 19:14
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Piano accompaniment is a wide and deep subject, but I tried to cut corners and make it look like it’s doable in the following eight steps. I made a two-minute video that demonstrates these steps using the beginning of “Amazing Grace” as an example.

  • Starting point: you’re able to play songs so that you play basic root position chords with your left hand and single-note melody with your right hand.

  • Step 1: Break the chords to both hands so that with your left hand you only play the chord’s bass note and with your right hand you play the whole chord. Focus only on learning these roles for your hands for playing chords, don’t try to play the melody.

  • Step 2: Combine with melody! Play the melody with the rightmost two or three fingers of your right hand, and on the "one" of each bar (or if the chord changes in the middle of a bar) add two chord tones below the melody note with your thumb and index finger (or middle finger). If this is too difficult at first, even one chord tone is fine. (By stacking chord tones below the melody note, you’re in a sense playing “chord inversions”.) The left hand plays bass almost like in the previous step, but playing a new note or repeating the previous one at the beginning of every bar, creating a very basic rhythmic pulse.

  • Step 3: Play chords with a rhythm pattern. Leave out the melody again, and play just chords with a rhythm pattern with both hands. Your left hand is like the kick drum and the bass, playing on “one”. The right hand is like the snare drum, hi-hat or guitar back-beat.

  • Step 4: Combine with melody! Even one harmony note is enough for the rhythm pattern, if you can’t do more. Emphasize the beginning of each bar, and each chord change, by play the whole chord at least lightly, regardless of the chosen rhythm pattern.

  • Step 5: Make the chord progression more interesting by adding movement and leading tones. Make the bass walk along chord tones e.g. at bar boundaries. (Later on as you get more skilled, you can do walking bass, boogie-woogie, funk bass, many other things, but simple chord tones are easy to start with.) For example, make the plain F major an F7 before going to Bb. Focus on harmony, don’t play melody or rhythm patterns. (This is an endless journey - there’s always more harmony tricks to add, when you get too used to the ones you already know.)

  • Step 6: Combine with melody! Don’t play a rhythm pattern. Combining the more advanced chords with the melody should be enough.

  • Step 7: Make your rhythm playing more interesting. Add weaker notes to the pattern. Add swing whenever you can. (I love swing) Don’t play melody, focus on rhythmic comping. Groove!

  • Step 8: Add everything together! Add melody, harmony, and rhythm embellishments as you learn them. You’re the whole band now. Listen to pop records and try to identify the essential “hummable” elements in each song and arrangement. What’s happening with the rhythm pattern? How could you do it on the piano? How’s the bass walking? Are there some interesting riffs and hooks you could imitate? How to do bossa nova comping? Funk? Ballads?

As you learn these steps, play songs together with someone. Get accompaniment gigs. Sing and play songs with family, friends, neighbours, church, random people. Make your playing serve a purpose - I've noticed that that's a very important motivation booster, and it makes the world better too.

And here's the video:

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    Wow I was only expecting a few tips and here you gave me what feels like another three years work of learning! Thanks for this and the video - I definitely have what to work with here! – Reverse Psychologist Feb 5 at 22:23
  • @ReversePsychologist No problem. I've played pop piano accompaniment all my life, learned it by myself without any proper training, and now I'm interested in finding out if I could explain or teach it to others. I'm using the questions on this site as a pretext for explicating my thoughts. I made the video completely from scratch in a little over two hours, most of it writing the text slides. At first I thought your question couldn't be answered in any short text or video, but I decided to try it anyway. Thanks for asking! (the pop/rock band-member aspect of the question is still unanswered) – piiperi Feb 5 at 22:47

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