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frogspawn

Accompaniment: Develop Melody Or Chords First?

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My long term aim has always been to make my accompaniment more fragmentary so that my voice takes the lead, but having learnt to play my songs with full melody and chords, I'm finding it hard to drop bits out.

 

Would it have been better to start with chords and to have added bits of melody rather than the other way round?

 

I know different people follow both approaches, but what's the balance of preference?

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Concertina is not my primary instrument. But in piano, accordion and in what concertina playing I've done, I've found that it not only varies from person to person but even song to song. The accompaniment method that works great in one song can be a total flop in another. I think your approach sounds fine! You just have to force yourself to practice it that way. Eventually, faster than you think, if you are consistent in forcing yourself to practice that way, you'll be able to quickly identify when a tune calls for lighter accompaniment and then be able to do it. Best of luck! It will be frustrating for a while, but you'll be a more versatile player when you're done!

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Would it have been better to start with chords and to have added bits of melody rather than the other way round?

 

Yes

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Would it have been better to start with chords and to have added bits of melody rather than the other way round?

 

Yes
As a very slow to learn beginner I have been wondering about this.

 

Pretty much all of the tutors focus on melody first and accompaniment much later, if at all. Then there are the tutors that teach melody and accompaniment simultaneously.

 

I wonder if it would be easier to learn to 'strum' first and worry about the 'finger picking' later, perhaps much later.

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Would it have been better to start with chords and to have added bits of melody rather than the other way round?

 

Yes

 

I suspect I disagree here, but I can't be sure to what degree, because I'm not sure what you two mean by "start with chords". Specifically, how do you know what chords to start with?

  • Do you decide which chords you want and then go find a melody that fits? I'm sure that's not what you mean, but if you don't "start with the melody", then that's a reasonable interpretation.
  • Do you start with someone else's written-out chord sequence? If so, how do you know that/whether it's right (or "right")? Aside from the many examples I've come across that I find of dubious quality, I find it's not rare (on the internet, at least) to find what are almost certainly typos or other sorts of proofreading mistakes. So how do you know you're starting with a sequence of chords that's compatible with your interpretation of the song?
  • Or do you mean that you examine the melody to decide what chords will fit, but then practice playing those chords without the melody before adding the melody into your accompaniment? If that's the case, then I claim you are really "starting with the melody", even though you temporarily ignore it during the process.

So I would say that -- in most cases -- it's best to "start" with the melody... by using it to guide you as to what chords to try. And note that I said "try", not "use". Because your first attempts may not sound quite right, so you may have to try alternatives for at least some of them. In the beginning, you'll likely need many tries before you get even one song "right", but with more and more experience you should have fewer and fewer false starts.

 

Another aspect that needs to be considered is whether only your voice should carry the melody, or whether the melody should be doubled in the accompaniment. I do some songs the one way, some the other, and some with a mixture. And there are (at least) two kinds of "mixture": 1) some passages including the melody and some not, or 2) playing rhythmic chords with inversions where the top note is always (or usually) the corresponding melody note, but leaving out the melody notes that don't fall on the chording beats.

 

In any case, here's how I tend to do it:

  • In some cases, I'll start by playing chords taken from another source, but for me that's unusual. I don't believe I've ever done this with chords from an unfamiliar source, but only with chords provided by either the composer or a performer I'm familiar with. Even then, I'm likely to change at least a few chords to "better" fit either my interpretation of the song or the sound of the concertina (as opposed to, e.g., guitar or piano).
  • But most of the time I start by playing only the melody along with my singing, then try to gradually add various bits of harmony lines and/or chords. (Actually, melody-only is the only "accompaniment" that can be guaranteed in advance not to clash with the melody in the voice.) Little by little, I add and subtract bits and pieces until I settle on something that feels comfortable, both musically and under my fingers. In the end, I may drop out the melody entirely, but I still start with it.
  • I often take shortcuts in this process, but that's because I have already learned how various things fit together, e.g., how different chords or harmony note sequences fit with familiar melody note sequences, or how my fingers work together to play harmonies in thirds or sixths.

In the end, though, you can only successfully do your own arranging if you're able to 1) learn from experimentation and 2) judge for yourself he quality of what you're playing. The former comes from experience... from trying again and again. The latter can be assisted by listening -- a lot of listening -- to others whose sounds you like (as well as to yourself when you practice).

 

I've left out a lot of detail here, because I don't have the time to write a book-length post, but I hope the above at least gives you an idea of some ways to proceed.

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Pretty much all of the tutors focus on melody first and accompaniment much later, if at all.

Isn't that because they're trying to teach you how to play the instrument, rather than how to construct an accompaniment, assuming that you already know -- more or less -- how to play?

 

Then there are the tutors that teach melody and accompaniment simultaneously.

Examples? At the moment I can't think of any I'm familiar with that teach "accompaniment" as such. At best, they present individual exercises in playing more complex arrangements. I.e., they're intended more to develop one's playing ability than one's arranging ability.

 

I wonder if it would be easier to learn to 'strum' first and worry about the 'finger picking' later, perhaps much later.

I think that's a false dichotomy. Yes, strumming (on stringed instruments) is generally chordal, but much finger picking is just arpeggiated chords and doesn't include melody. Still, I think I understand what you're trying to get at... you want something that's simple in both concept and practice, and trying to mix melody and chords is usually considered more difficult than either one alone.

 

But on concertinas there are other "simple" possibilities. E.g.,

  • On an English... parallel thirds, or occasional fifths.
  • On an anglo... alternating bass or moving bass lines (without chords), octaves (in some cases), or even parallel thirds (in some cases).
  • On a duet... parallel octaves, drones, or alternating bass (without full chords).

One thing about "strumming" or "finger pickinig" on a concertina is the fact that individual notes don't fade away while others are sounding; they either cut off abruptly or continue at "the same" volume as following notes. This produces a very different effect from a guitar, and it needs to be taken into account when developing accompaniments.

Edited by JimLucas

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There is no ' correct ' way of of approaching and resolving such matters . Follow your natural instincts and never underestimate the value of what can only be described as ' trial and error ', which is all part of the fun of creative music-making.

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Primarily I second Jim's explanations.

 

From my personal experience it might be added that in fact an accompaniment based on melody with chords doesn't necessarily have to be bad or faulty. This angle may be prompted by the "interwoven" quality of playing the English concertina (as opposed to having chords and melody more or less seperated with a Duet). As for me there are no chords from which the melody could simply be substracted, just harmonies with the melody being part of.

 

Jim's style (with the English as well) is much more varied than mine, and it might be regarded as weakness (which I don't) that I widely stick to this harmony/melody thing. But I believe the restraint can be achieved otherwise, mainly with bellows control and dynamics. In adition to that it is of course possible to shorten note values, play just pizzicato a.s.f.

 

This will be quite a matter of experience and aplomb, and I guess I'm on my way here...

 

Not a direct answering the question raised, but I hope this helps anyhow...

 

Best wishes - Wolf

 

edited to add that it might be helpful to have the instrumental melody in another octave (above, in my case) as your singing...

Edited by blue eyed sailor

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An often-stated view where song accompaniment is concerned is that is usually better to avoid playing the melody. On concertina I find this is more easily said than done, at least when I am also the one singing. However with this in mind I suggest playing chords, perhaps including some arpeggios. Playing 'twiddly bits' between lines and verses can give the impression of a more complex arrangement without being a distraction when you're trying to sing.

 

It is important that the mental effort required to play the accompaniment shouldn't distract you from your singing - that should demand most of your attention, so the accompaniment should be fairly simple to play. This doesn't apply when you're accompanying someone else, although then you need to avoid distracting the audience with an over-complicated arrangement. The idea in both cases is after all to support the song, not compete with it.

Edited by hjcjones

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An often-stated view where song accompaniment is concerned is that is usually better to avoid playing the melody. On concertina I find this is more easily said than done, at least when I am also the one singing. However with this in mind I suggest playing chords, perhaps including some arpeggios. Playing 'twiddly bits' between lines and verses can give the impression of a more complex arrangement without being a distraction when you're trying to sing.

 

It is important that the mental effort required to play the accompaniment shouldn't distract you from your singing - that should demand most of your attention, so the accompaniment should be fairly simple to play...

I don't believe playing the melody will necessarily result in a distraction - I absolutely agree that most of the attention must go to the singing, but stable playing the song alongside your own vocals shouldn't be a problem then... You first will have to be in control of your playing the instrument of course...

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I always begin with the melody in the sense that I first learn to sing a song unaccompanied. I don't necessarily learn all the words at this point, but I get the tune. I then learn to play the melody on the Crane, either by ear or from dots if they are available. I then add chords, usually my own, but I'll compare my choices to other arrangements, if I can find any. Of course, I dispense with written lyrics and score ASAP and have never performed with either.

 

I find this approach very straightforward and easy to apply and I'm happy with it, so what's the problem?

 

(1) It's doing three things at the same time rather than 'accompanying' my singing, and most (?) people seem to regard doubling the voice as wrong in principle.

 

(2) It doesn't capture the sound I ultimately want to achieve.

 

(3) It's complicated (melody + chords + voice) and increases the chance of error.

 

Having got this far and in this order, however, I'm finding it difficult to drop the full melody, which is why I think I should start with the chords. When I say start, I mean the first thing I do with the concertina when developing new songs.

 

'Attaching' the chords directly to my singing probably won't be quite as easy as attaching them to the played melody as I will be relying purely on sound without the 'button association' between melody notes and chords which has now become quite instinctive.

 

I've got a new set of songs in mind to experiment on. I don't know exactly what I'm going to do, but it won't start (or finish) with the full melody.

Edited by frogspawn

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I sometimes like to play the tune as well as singing it - it can be quite effective in giving a nice doubled-at-the-octave feel.

 

For me the elements of devising an accompaniment are something like this, and roughly in this order:

  • apply "scorched earth harmony policy" - make the harmonic structure as uncluttered as possible while still fitting the needs of the melody. Chord changes can be such a distraction - and if they're used sparingly, they can really be made to count. Quite a lot of my arrangements reduce the harmony to just I and IV (in different inversions) - I have a bit of an allergy to V7 chords and almost always replace them with IV!
  • choose a drone note. I almost always have one, but not necessarily - in fact often not - in the bass. This may or may not be the tonic. If I'm playing my Jeffries duet, drone notes are usually in the upper end of the LH range - i.e. in the 5th above middle C that overlaps both hands.
  • devise bass line - if relying on droney textures and often near-immobile harmony, what goes on at the bottom can add a lot of colour with deceptively simple means, through various inversions etc.
  • work out what the right hand might do - I sometimes imitate guitar picking patterns, sometimes use arpeggiated figures that stay constant even if there's a chord change (i.e. so that they function like a "broken chord drone")

You could, rather than starting from chords as such, start from a simple drone of a fifth, and then work outwards from there...

Edited by StuartEstell

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(1) It's doing three things at the same time rather than 'accompanying' my singing, and most (?) people seem to regard doubling the voice as wrong in principle.

No "wrong in principle" here!

 

(2) It doesn't capture the sound I ultimately want to achieve.

Can you describe what you want to achieve?

 

(3) It's complicated (melody + chords + voice) and increases the chance of error.

 

I guess I'd find it much more complicated to have "chords" plus "voice" plus something which is not the melody... B)

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There have been some very useful ideas here for which I'm most grateful.

 

A couple of the players who have most impressed and inspired me are Alf Edwards and Tony Rose on English. On Crane I would think immediately of Tim Laycock, and, for me, a very recent discovery - Geoff Lakeman. I try to analyse what these players are actually doing but I find it very hard. It just sounds good!

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Dick Miles kindly showed me how his current English style might be applied to the Crane - basically melody notes held on to build up chords. This can be done on the Crane but it's more appropriate to the English where melody and chords are by nature in the same range. Chords on the Crane are usually played on the left in a lower octave, more like playing an accordion or melodeon without the advantage of being on a single button!

 

In my current style I play the melody on the upper right, two octaves above my singing voice and the chords more or less in the middle on the left.

 

If using a chordal approach I'll have lots of options for bass notes or chord positions or maybe do chords with both hands for volume.

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