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Pop Ballad Accompaniment

for Piano and Keyboard


by Ron Drotos
Lesson 1:
There are many types of piano accompaniment that work well behind a vocalist,
whether you yourself are singing or you're playing piano/keyboard while someone
else sings. A simple way to get started is to play root-position chords in your right hand
and the chord roots, or letter names, in your left. The right hand plays quarter notes
while the left holds each note for the duration of the chord. Change the pedal whenever
the chord changes. This very simple style of accompaniment is surprisingly effective
and versatile.
Slowly

4
C G F G C

& 4

?4 w w
4 w .
pedal etc.


C G F G C

&

?w w
w .


&
Em Am F G

?w
w w w


C G F G C

&

?w w
w .
Copyright 2012 Ron Drotos
Lesson 2:
Let's see what else we can do with the same chords we played in Lesson 1. This chord
progression uses common chords in the key of 'C' (all white notes) and was used in the
song "The Rose", among others. We can add a little more of a Rock rhythm to the left
hand, as shown below.

Slowly

4
C G F G C

& 4

? 4 . j j j
4 j .
. .
pedal etc.


C G F G C

&

? . j j j
j .
. .


&
Em Am F G

? . j j j
J . . .


C G F G C

&

? . j j j j
. .
.
2
Lesson 3:
Playing root position chords in the right hand can go a long way, especially if you're
just starting to use chords to improvise your own accompaniments. After a while,
though, you may find that you don't want to move your right hand so much. At this
point, try inverting some of the chords. This will let you keep your hand in the same
area of the keyboard, and will also result in a smoother sound.

Slowly

4
C G F G C

& 4

? 4 . j j j
4 j .
. .
pedal etc.
C G F G C

&

? . j j j
j .
. .


&
Em Am F G

? . j j j
J . . .
C G F G C

&

? . j j j j
. .
.
3
Lesson 4:
By now, you may have noticed that some famous pianists like Elton John often play
simple accompaniments like these. Listen to how simply Paul McCartney plays
at the beginning of 'Hey Jude'. This quarter note based style can even work on
songs that originally had a more complicated piano part, such as Elton John's 'Your
Song'. This example combines all three approaches, which lets the music grow and
develop as the song progresses.
Slowly

4
C G F G C

& 4

?4 w w
4 w .
pedal etc.
C G F G C

&

?w w
w .


&
Em Am F G

? . j j j
J . . .
C G F G C

&

? . j j j j
. .
.
4
Lesson 5:
Let's try an 8th note pattern that give a little more sense of motion to our
accompaniment. Notice, too, how higher inversions are used on the 2nd line to give
variety to the sound.

Slowly

4
C G F G C

& 4

?4 w w
4 w .
pedal etc.
C G F G C

&

?w w
w .


Em Am F G

&

? . j j j
J . . .
C G F G C

&

? . j j j j
.
. .
5
Lesson 6:
The top note of each right hand chord can be heard as part of it's own melody,
independent from the melody of the song. To play this example, use the 4th and 5th
fingers of your right hand to hold the sustained notes, while fingers 1, 2, and 3 play
a steady 8th note pattern.
Slowly

4
& 4 w w . w
C G F G C


?4 w w
4 w .
pedal etc.

w w . w
C G F G C


&

?w w
w .

w Awm w w
&
Em F G

?w
w w w

w
& w . ggg
C G F G C

gg
g
?w
w . w
6
Lesson 7:
Let's add a more intricate left hand approach that contains sustained and
rhythmic elements simulaneously.

Slowly

4
& 4 w w . w
C G F G C

?4 w w .
4 . w
. . .
J J J J
pedal etc.

w w w
& .
C G F G C

?w w .
. w
. J . .
J J J
w Awm w
& w
Em F G

?w w w w
. . . .
J J J J
w w
& . ggg
C G F G C

g
gg
?w w . w
. . .
J J .
J J
7
Lesson 8:
Some pop ballads call for an arpeggiated approach that mimics the sound of an
acoustic guitar. For a little variety, we'll move into the key of 'F' major.

Bb
w j j
4 .
F Am Dm

&b 4 w

.
J


j
j j j
? 4 w
b 4w w w

Bb


Gm Am C

&b

j j j j
?b w w
w w
Bb
w j j
.
F Am Dm

&b w
.
J
j j j j
?b
w
w
w w
Bb

w
Gm Am C F

&b

j j
?
b w w
w
8
Lesson 9:
Sometimes a note other than the chord's root is in the bass part. The alternate bass
note is often another chord tone, such as the 3rd or 5th. The chord is then written as
a fraction, with the chord above the bass note. For example, C/E means that you play
a 'C' chord with 'E' in the bass.

4
C C/E F G

& 4

?4
4 w w
w w
F/A G/B C G

&

? w
w w w


C C/E F G

&

?
w w w
w
F/A G/B C

& ww
w
? w w w
w
9
Lesson 10:
You might even see a bass note that is not part of the chord it's paired with. In that
case, simply play the bass note with your left hand and the chord with your right.

4
C D/C G/B C/E

& 4 #

j j j j j j j j
? 4 .
4 . . . . . . .
w w w w
D/F #

& #
G F/A F G

n

j j j j j j j j
? #. . . . . . . .
#w w w
C/B b D dim/A b

& b
C F/A


j j
. . b . j . j . j . j b . j . j
?w bw w bw

ww
C/G F/G F C/E D m7 C

& w

j j j j j
? . . . . . w
w w w
10
Lesson 11:
The right hand can play bigger chord voicings for a fuller sound. Also, a bass line in
octaves gives more power.

4
& 4
C G Am F



j j
? 4 . j . . .
4 . .
. J .


&
C G F G


j j
? . j . .
. .
.


&
C G Am F



j j
? . j . . .
. .
. J .

ww
C G F C

& ww
j j j
? . . .
. . w
. w
11
Lesson 12:
This example adds melodic passing notes in the left hand to the music from
Lesson 11.

4
& 4
C G Am F



.
?4
4 .
J

&
C G F G


j
? . .
. .


&
C G Am F



. j
? .
. .

J

ww
C G F C

& ww
? w
w w
w
12
Lesson 13:
Pianists such as Elton John use techniques from gospel music, such as playing a
'neighbor' chord that's a 4th higher than the preceding chord, while keeping the bass
note the same, as a 'pedal tone'.

B b/F
4 b ..
C F/C C F F Em Dm

& 4 ...
.
? 4 .
4 . . . .
. . . . .
C G/B Am G F G

& ...

?w
w . .
w w . .
B b/F

b ..
C F/C C F F G

& ... .

? . . . . . .
. . .
. . .
E 7/G # A m

Am F E F C/G G7 C F/C C

& #
j j
? # . .
# . . w
w
13
Lesson 14:
The left hand bass line can become very melodic at times, as in this example.

4
C Am F G

& 4

?4 .
4 J


C Am F G

&





















? . . . .

J J J J


C Am F G

&


C Am F G C

& ww
w
. . .
? J J J

14
Lesson 15:
Many pop ballads have a dotted rhythm that emphasises the 'and' of beat 2. "Your
Song" by Elton John uses this technique. Here's a simple example that combines
a guitar-like pattern with this rhythmic feel.

# # 4 D G A D G A
& 4
j j
. .
? ## 4 w J w J
4
#
# # D E m7 D/F

G A

&
j j j
.
? ## w w w J
#
# # Bm Bm/A E7/G G A
&
j j j
w .
? ## w # w
J

# # D G A G D

& w
j j


w g
g ww
? ## w .
rit.

J ggg w

We have covered many of the basic elements of pop ballad accompaniment. To learn
more about these styles, listen to as many recordings as you can, and analyze which
techniques are used, and in what context. Then you can freely mix and match these
patterns to create fun and interesting accompaniments to your favorite songs. Enjoy!

15
About Ron Drotos

Ron Drotos has worked as a pianist, arranger, composer, and teacher in New York
City since 1989. His career has brought him to Carnegie Hall, both as pianist and
arranger for the NY Pops, and to the Broadway stage, where he has both
conducted and played for shows such as Smokey Joes Cafe, Swinging On A Star
(Tony nomination for Best Musical), and Fosse. Ron has played piano with jazz
greats Chris Brubeck and Giacomo Gates, and composes choral music that is
heard in universities across the United States. Ron has orchestrated over 19 shows
for the legendary Princeton Triangle Club, and particularly enjoys his time spent
teaching and performing at the Fairbanks (Alaska) Summer Arts Festival. As a
teacher of piano improvisation, he loves that magic moment when everything
clicks for the student, and the music begins flow!