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A waltz melody, which is usually in triple meter, is often supported by an "oom-pah-pah"-style accompaniment, which consists of a bass note in beat one followed by a chord that is played twice in beats two and three.
Play (help*info) Accompainment Waltz.png
A waltz melody, which is usually in triple meter, is often supported by an "oom-pah-pah"-style accompaniment, which consists of a bass note in beat one followed by a chord that is played twice in beats two and three. Loudspeaker.svg Play  
"Walking basslines", so-named because they rise and fall in a regular pattern, are a widely used style of accompaniment bassline in jazz, blues and rockabilly.
Play (help*info) Walking bass.PNG
"Walking basslines", so-named because they rise and fall in a regular pattern, are a widely used style of accompaniment bassline in jazz, blues and rockabilly. Loudspeaker.svg Play  
A guitarist playing the basso continuo accompaniment part for Baroque music composer Antonio Vivaldi's Cello concerto in 2008. Gitarre continuo.JPG
A guitarist playing the basso continuo accompaniment part for Baroque music composer Antonio Vivaldi's Cello concerto in 2008.

Accompaniment is the musical part which provides the rhythmic and/or harmonic support for the melody or main themes of a song or instrumental piece. There are many different styles and types of accompaniment in different genres and styles of music. In homophonic music, the main accompaniment approach used in popular music, a clear vocal melody is supported by subordinate chords. In popular music and traditional music, the accompaniment parts typically provide the "beat" for the music and outline the chord progression of the song or instrumental piece.


The accompaniment for a vocal melody or instrumental solo can be played by a single musician playing an instrument such as piano, pipe organ, or guitar. While any instrument can in theory be used as an accompaniment instrument, keyboard and guitar-family instruments tend to be used if there is only a single instrument, as these instruments can play chords and basslines simultaneously (chords and a bassline are easier to play simultaneously on keyboard instruments, but a fingerpicking guitarist can play chords and a bassline simultaneously on guitar). A solo singer can accompany herself by playing guitar or piano while she sings, and in some rare cases, a solo singer can even accompany himself or herself just using his or her voice and body (e.g., Bobby McFerrin).

Alternatively, the accompaniment to a vocal melody or instrumental solo can be provided by a musical ensemble, ranging in size from a duo (e.g., cello and piano; guitar and double bass; synthesizer and percussion); a trio (e.g., a rock power trio of electric guitar, electric bass and drum kit; an organ trio); a quartet (e.g., a string quartet in Classical music can accompany a solo singer; a rock band or rhythm section in rock and pop; a jazz quartet in jazz); all the way to larger ensembles, such as concert bands, Big Bands (in jazz), pit orchestras in musical theatre; and orchestras, which, in addition to playing symphonies, can also provide accompaniment to a concerto solo instrumentalist or to solo singers in opera. With choral music, the accompaniment to a vocal solo can be provided by other singers in the choir, who sing harmony parts or countermelodies.

Accompaniment parts range from so simple that a beginner can play them (e.g., simple three-note triad chords in a traditional folk song) to so complex that only an advanced player or singer can perform them (e.g., the piano parts in Schubert's Lieder art songs from the 19th century or vocal parts from a Renaissance music motet).


Mozart's Piano Sonata, K 545 opening. The right hand plays the melody, which is in the top stave. The left hand plays the accompaniment part, which is in the lower stave. In the first bar of the accompaniment part, the pianist plays a C Major chord in the left hand; this chord is arpeggiated (i.e., a chord in which the notes are played one after the other, rather than simultaneously).
Play (help*info) Mozart k545 opening.svg
Mozart's Piano Sonata, K 545 opening. The right hand plays the melody, which is in the top stave. The left hand plays the accompaniment part, which is in the lower stave. In the first bar of the accompaniment part, the pianist plays a C Major chord in the left hand; this chord is arpeggiated (i.e., a chord in which the notes are played one after the other, rather than simultaneously). Loudspeaker.svg Play  

An accompanist is a musician who plays an accompaniment part. Accompanists often play keyboard instruments (e.g., piano, pipe organ, synthesizer) or, in folk music and traditional styles, a guitar. While sight-reading (the ability to play a notated piece of music without preparing it) is important for many types of musicians, it is essential for professional accompanists. In auditions for musical theater and orchestras, an accompanist will often have to sight read music.

A number of classical pianists have found success as accompanists rather than soloists; arguably the best known example is Gerald Moore, well known as a Lieder accompanist. In some American schools, the term collaborative piano is used, and hence, the title "collaborative pianist" (or collaborative artist) is replacing the title accompanist, because in many art songs and contemporary classical music songs, the piano part is complex and demands an advanced level of musicianship and technique. The term accompanist also refers to a musician (typically a pianist) who plays for singers, dancers, and other performers at an audition or rehearsal—but who does not necessarily participate in the ensemble that plays for the final performance (which might be an orchestra or a big band).

Accompaniment figure

An accompaniment figure is a musical gesture used repeatedly in an accompaniment, such as:

Notated accompaniment may be indicated obbligato (obliged) or ad libitum (at one's pleasure).

Dialogue accompaniment

Dialogue accompaniment is a form of call and response in which the lead and accompaniment alternate, the accompaniment playing during the rests of the lead and providing a drone or silence during the main melody or vocal. [1]

Notation and improvisation

The accompaniment instrumentalists and/or singers can be provided with a fully notated accompaniment part written or printed on sheet music. This is the norm in Classical music and in most large ensemble writing (e.g., orchestra, pit orchestra, choir). In popular music and traditional music, the accompaniment instrumentalists often improvise their accompaniment, either based on a lead sheet or chord chart which indicates the chords used in the song or piece (e.g., C Major, d minor, G7, or Nashville Numbers or Roman numerals, such as I, ii, V7, etc.) or by "playing by ear". To achieve a stylistic correct sound the accompaniment pattern should remind or imitate the original version using similar rhythms and patterns.

Chord-playing musicians (e.g., those playing guitar, piano, Hammond organ, etc.) can improvise chords, "fill-in" melodic lines and solos from the chord chart. It is rare for chords to be fully written out in music notation in pop and traditional music. Some guitarists, bassists and other stringed instrumentalists read accompaniment parts using tabulature (or "tab"), a notation system which shows the musician where on the instrument to play the notes. Drummers can play accompaniment by following the lead sheet, a sheet music part in music notation, or by playing by ear.

In pop and traditional music, bass players, which may be upright bass or electric bass, or another instrument, such as bass synth, depending on the style of music, are usually expected to be able to improvise a bassline from a chord chart or learn the song from a recording. In some cases, an arranger or composer may give a bassist a bass part that is fully written out in music notation. In. some arranged music parts, there is a mix of written-out accompaniment and improvisation. For example, in a big band bass part, the introduction and melody ("head") to a tune may have a fully notated bassline, but then for the improvised solos, the arranger may just write out chord symbols (e.g., Bb G7/c min F7), with the expectation that the bassist improvise her own walking bass part.

See also

Related Research Articles

Classical period (music) genre of Western music (c.1730-1820)

The Classical period was an era of classical music between roughly 1730 and 1820.

Figured bass kind of musical notation

Figured bass, or thoroughbass, is a kind of musical notation in which numerals and symbols indicate intervals, chords, and non-chord tones that a musician playing piano, harpsichord, organ, lute play in relation to the bass note that these numbers and symbols appear above or below. Figured bass is closely associated with basso continuo, a historically improvised accompaniment used in almost all genres of music in the Baroque period of Classical music (c.1600–1750), though rarely in modern music.

Jazz guitar Jazz instrument and associated playing style

The term jazz guitar may refer to either a type of guitar or to the variety of guitar playing styles used in the various genres which are commonly termed "jazz". The jazz-type guitar was born as a result of using electric amplification to increase the volume of conventional acoustic guitars.

Music form of art using sound and silence

Music is an art form and cultural activity whose medium is sound organized in time. General definitions of music include common elements such as pitch, rhythm, dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture. Different styles or types of music may emphasize, de-emphasize or omit some of these elements. Music is performed with a vast range of instruments and vocal techniques ranging from singing to rapping; there are solely instrumental pieces, solely vocal pieces and pieces that combine singing and instruments. The word derives from Greek μουσική . See glossary of musical terminology.

Musical composition aesthetic ordering and disposing of musical information

Musical composition, music composition, or simply composition, can refer to an original piece or work of music, either vocal or instrumental, the structure of a musical piece, or to the process of creating or writing a new piece of music. People who create new compositions are called composers. Composers of primarily songs are usually called songwriters; with songs, the person who writes lyrics for a song is the lyricist. In many cultures, including Western classical music, the act of composing typically includes the creation of music notation, such as a sheet music "score," which is then performed by the composer or by other instrumental musicians or singers. In popular music and traditional music, songwriting may involve the creation of a basic outline of the song, called the lead sheet, which sets out the melody, lyrics and chord progression. In classical music, orchestration is typically done by the composer, but in musical theatre and in pop music, songwriters may hire an arranger to do the orchestration. In some cases, a pop or traditional songwriter may not use written notation at all, and instead compose the song in their mind and then play, sing and/or record it from memory. In jazz and popular music, notable sound recordings by influential performers are given the weight that written or printed scores play in classical music.

Sheet music is a handwritten or printed form of musical notation that uses musical symbols to indicate the pitches (melodies), rhythms or chords of a song or instrumental musical piece. Like its analogs – printed books or pamphlets in English, Arabic or other languages – the medium of sheet music typically is paper, although the access to musical notation since the 1980s has included the presentation of musical notation on computer screens and the development of scorewriter computer programs that can notate a song or piece electronically, and, in some cases, "play back" the notated music using a synthesizer or virtual instruments.

In music, an ostinato[ostiˈnaːto] is a motif or phrase that persistently repeats in the same musical voice, frequently in the same pitch. Well-known ostinato-based pieces include both classical compositions such as Ravel's Boléro and the Carol of the Bells, and popular songs such as Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's "I Feel Love" (1977), Henry Mancini's theme from Peter Gunn (1959), and The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (1997).

This is a list of musical terms that are likely to be encountered in printed scores, music reviews, and program notes. Most of the terms are Italian, in accordance with the Italian origins of many European musical conventions. Sometimes, the special musical meanings of these phrases differ from the original or current Italian meanings. Most of the other terms are taken from French and German, indicated by "Fr." and "Ger.", respectively.


A bassline is the term used in many styles of music, such as jazz, blues, funk, dub and electronic, traditional music, or classical music for the low-pitched instrumental part or line played by a rhythm section instrument such as the electric bass, double bass, cello, tuba or keyboard. In unaccompanied solo performance, basslines may simply be played in the lower register of any instrument such as guitar or piano while melody and/or further accompaniment is provided in the middle or upper register. In solo music for piano and pipe organ, these instruments have an excellent lower register that can be used to play a deep bassline. On organs, the bass line is typically played using the pedal keyboard and massive 16' and 32' bass pipes.

Comping is the chords, rhythms, and countermelodies that keyboard players, guitar players, or drummers use to support a jazz musician's improvised solo or melody lines. It is also the action of accompanying, and the left-hand part of a solo pianist.

Rhythm section group of musicians within a music ensemble or band who provide the underlying rhythm, harmony and beat for the rest of the band

A rhythm section is a group of musicians within a music ensemble or band that provides the underlying rhythm, harmony and pulse of the accompaniment, providing a rhythmic and harmonic reference and "beat" for the rest of the band. The rhythm section is often contrasted with the roles of other musicians in the band, such as the lead guitarist or lead vocals whose primary job is to carry the melody.

In music, transcription can mean notating a piece or a sound which was previously unnotated, as, for example, an improvised jazz solo. When a musician is tasked with creating sheet music from a recording and they write down the notes that make up the piece in music notation, it is said that they created a musical transcription of that recording. Transcription may also mean rewriting a piece of music, either solo or ensemble, for another instrument or other instruments than which it was originally intended. The Beethoven Symphonies by Franz Liszt are a good example. Transcription in this sense is sometimes called arrangement, although strictly speaking transcriptions are faithful adaptations, whereas arrangements change significant aspects of the original piece.

Lead sheet

A lead sheet or fake sheet is a form of musical notation that specifies the essential elements of a popular song: the melody, lyrics and harmony. The melody is written in modern Western music notation, the lyric is written as text below the staff and the harmony is specified with chord symbols above the staff.

Chord chart form of sheet music

A chord chart is a form of musical notation that describes the basic harmonic and rhythmic information for a song or tune. It is the most common form of notation used by professional session musicians playing jazz or popular music. It is intended primarily for a rhythm section. In these genres the musicians are expected to be able to improvise the individual notes used for the chords and the appropriate ornamentation, counter melody or bassline.

Jazz improvisation spontaneous composition in jazz

Jazz improvisation is the spontaneous invention of melodic solo lines or accompaniment parts. It is one of the defining elements of jazz. Improvisation is composing on the spot, when a singer or instrumentalist invents melodies and lines over a chord progression played by rhythm section instruments and accompanied by drums. Although blues, rock, and other genres use improvisation, it is done over relatively simple chord progressions which often remain in one key.

Music session

A music session is a social gathering of musicians and singers who perform music in a relatively informal context. Much of the music performed at such events is traditional music for the area, popular songs and other well-known tunes. In sessions, the participants typically improvise the accompaniment, song arrangements and musical ornaments to the melodies of songs or tunes. The venue may be a public bar, tavern, village hall or a private home.

Baroque music Style of Western art music

Baroque music is a period or style of Western art music composed from approximately 1600 to 1750. This era followed the Renaissance music era, and was followed in turn by the Classical era. Baroque music forms a major portion of the "classical music" canon, and is now widely studied, performed, and listened to. Key composers of the Baroque era include Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel, Claudio Monteverdi, Domenico Scarlatti, Alessandro Scarlatti, Henry Purcell, Georg Philipp Telemann, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Arcangelo Corelli, Tomaso Albinoni, François Couperin, Giuseppe Tartini, Heinrich Schütz, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Dieterich Buxtehude, and Johann Pachelbel.

Glossary of jazz and popular music

This is a list of jazz and popular music terms that are likely to be encountered in printed popular music songbooks, fake books and vocal scores, big band scores, jazz, and rock concert reviews, and album liner notes. This glossary includes terms for musical instruments, playing or singing techniques, amplifiers, effects units, sound reinforcement equipment, and recording gear and techniques which are widely used in jazz and popular music. Most of the terms are in English, but in some cases, terms from other languages are encountered.

Faking (Western classical music)

In instrumental music performances in Western classical music, "faking" is the process by which a musician gives the "...impression of playing every note as written" in the printed music part, typically for a very challenging passage that is very high in pitch and/or very rapid, while not actually playing all of the notes in the part. Faking may be done by an orchestra musician, a concerto soloist or a chamber musician; however, faking tends to be more associated with orchestra playing, because the presence of such a large music ensemble makes it easier for musicians who "fake" to do so without being detected. A concerto soloist or chamber musician who faked passages would be much easier for audience members and other musicians to detect. Orchestra musicians at every level, from amateur orchestras and youth orchestras to professional orchestra players will occasionally "fake" a hard passage.

In jazz, the term "faking" means to improvise accompaniment parts. The term "faking" in jazz does not have the same meaning as in faking in Classical music, where faking is seen as a controversial activity. In jazz, when a jazz quartet "fakes" accompaniment parts to a song with a singer, this is a synonym for improvising their backup parts. Improvising backup lines is an essential skill for jazz musicians. The use of the term "fake" in the jazz scene is illustrated by the expression "fake book", a collection of lead sheets and chord progressions for jazz standards. The reason the book is called a "fake book" is because trained jazz performers are able to improvise accompaniment parts and solos from the chord charts contained therein.


  1. van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music, p.320. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN   0-19-316121-4.