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How to Accompany Another Musician on Guitar
Some books on guitar accompaniment
How to learn the art of guitar accompaniment
So, you've learnt how to play chords on the guitar and now you want to try your hand at accompanying another musician. This can be a singer or another instrumentalist. For example, I play with a Scottish fiddler and I accompany him both on guitar and on piano. In this article, I'll give you some tips on how to become a good accompanist on your guitar.
First of all, please understand that it's very hard to explain how to accompany another musician on guitar in a single article. That's because there are lots of different styles of music and they all require different accompaniment techniques. So I'll just give you the basics.
Guitar accompaniment - is it easy or difficult?
Being an accompanist is difficult and easy at the same time. It's difficult because you have to play with someone and abide by his or her rules, because you have to be very responsive to any changes and react quickly, and because you should be able to play in different styles and often play things by ear, especially if you play at sessions. Sounds scary, doesn't it? But don't worry. Being an accompanist has its advantages and it's easy once you get the hang of it. Trust me, once you know the chord patterns and the strumming styles for the kind of music you want to accompany, it becomes a breeze because your hands start doing their job without you having to think a lot about what to do and when.
Learn the chords
The first thing you need to do if you want to learn how to accompany another musician on guitar is to learn the typical chords and chord patterns for the particular music style you want to play. For example, if you want to accompany Irish and Scottish musicians, learn a lot of chords in D and G, as they are the major keys for Irish music. Also make sure you learn both classical and modal chord patterns, as Celtic music uses both.
A typical major Celtic piece, such as a reel or a jig, will most likely use the tonic-subdominant-dominant-tonic pattern. Sounds complicated? It really isn't. Basically, in the key of C the C major chord itself will be the tonic, the subdominant will be F major, and G major is the dominant. What you need to remember is that the tonic is the main chord in a key signature, the subdominant is the fourth degree from the tonic and the dominant is the fifth degree. This pattern is true for both major and minor key signatures.
A typical minor Celtic piece uses modal chords. That's even easier than the three chords you have to learn for a major piece because you can usually accompany a modal piece by using just two chords - the tonic and the natural seventh degree. For example, let's say you are accompanying a piece in a minor. An A minor chord will be the tonic and a G major chord with be the natural seventh degree. That's all there is to it, really.
Remember to learn and practice as many chord patterns as you can, so that your left hand really knows what it's doing.
Practice strumming and picking
Now that your left hand knows which chords to play, it's time to make them sound cool with different strumming and picking patterns. I can't really teach you any of them in an article without uploading some audio or video (I might add a video in the future). What I can say is that there are tons of different strumming patterns and different rhythms. The ones that you will use most often depend on the style of music you are going to accompany and on the preferences of your soloist. Very often the musician you are accompanying will tell you what sort of rhythm he or she wants from you. So, again, learn as many patterns as you can.
I can't stress enough how important it is to listen to your soloist and follow him or her very closely. How to accompany another musician on guitar is not only a matter of playing the correct chords at the right time. It's also a matter of blending together as an ensemble, so that your accompaniment complements your soloist. This can only be achieved by practicing together a lot. You have to feel what your soloist is going to do next, you have to be able to anticipate his or hers movements. Don't underestimate your role as an accompanist - if you fail, the soloist will also fail. So try to rehears as much as you can. If it's not possible, ask your soloist to record the tunes you are playing (or singing if you are accompanying a singer) and practice at home with the recording.
I hope this article is the first step on your way to becoming a good guitar accompanist. Good luck!