Simple Accompaniment Patterns on Piano

by Haruki Nunn, Music Therapy Intern

If you are a music therapist or an aspiring musician studying music therapy, I am sure that you have already had an impression that skills on keys are important depending on what activities you want to introduce to clients. Although not all populations require advanced skills on the keys, it is indeed a great skill for any music therapists to have and use in sessions whenever opportunities exist. In this article, I would like to introduce some easy accompaniment patterns so that anyone who is interested in learning keys can know where to begin and hopefully use them with clients in sessions.

First of all, if you are not confident nor comfortable with keys, it is important to be aware of these components when you practice keys; being functional, practical, and motivating (Jones, 2016). Functional accompaniments make you engage with clients effectively without any barriers or distraction. Practical accompaniments help you think whatever you provide with the accompaniment is necessary for the client to achieve a goal. If you find yourself making it more challenging than it actually is, do not be afraid of keeping it simple. The last component encourages you to ask questions if whatever song you are attempting to learn on keys is motivating or not. Music therapists regularly take time to practice and use client-preferred music. However, when you start learning a new instrument, it is important to use therapist-preferred music and to keep yourself motivated. Therefore, consider to start learning your favorite music first. As long as you can learn some accompaniment styles in a song, you can use the skill in sessions as well. I believe these components could be beneficial to consider when you practice, especially if you are new to keys. 

A person playing piano while their head is tilted up and their eyes are closed. The wall behind them is a vibrant green.

Before starting to learn some accompaniment patterns, I strongly believe it is helpful to know what chords and inversions you can play on the keys without consciously thinking or even looking your hands. If you are not confident, you can start with I, IV and V/V7 on the keys which you sing or your clients sing! When you practice those chords, make sure to practice with both hands and explore different inversions. Different inversions are helpful to play a smooth voice leading. Also, it is helpful to assess which hand you feel comfortable to playing more notes on. Knowing which hand is more capable of supporting harmonic function to help you provide more musical support with less burden and shift more attentions to a client instead of what you are playing on keys.

1. Base line with blocked chord 

In this accompaniment, left hand plays the base line and the right hand plays the blocked chord. This pattern could be used in variable songs and it is simple enough for anyone to fully focus on clients instead of keys. If your left hand is more capable, you can play the blocked chord on the left and some baseline on the right hand too.  

Boom-chuck is a variation of this with different rhythmic patterns. Your left-hand plays the baseline or the 5th note on strong beats, whereas your right-hand triple or 7th chords on weak beats (Massicot, 2012). As you can see from the example above, knowing blocked chords and baselines can create variable accompaniment patterns.  

For example, you could sustain your baseline on the first beat while the other hand plays blocked chords for the rest of the beats. In another example, you could play baseline on the first and fourth beats while the other hand plays the blocked chords on the second and third beats to create different sounds.

2. Base line with alternating patterns

In this accompaniment, the left hand plays either octaves of baselines or chords,  whereas the right hand plays alternating patterns in quarter or 8th notes (Lean Musician, 2019). You play two notes on strong beats and one note on weak beats. The example below shows the 8th note patterns. For this accompaniment, you can change alternating patterns easily. You might choose the bottom and high notes on the strong beats and the middle note on the weak beats instead. The beauty of keys accompaniment is that you can make a small change on keys and create totally different sound experiences.   

3. Arpeggiation

This is one of my favorite accompaniments to use because it could also create variable accompaniment patterns. It sounds melodic and it is not too overpowering either.

Arpeggiation with Bass Notes

Left hand plays bass or 5th notes and right-hand play arpeggio (Examples could be 1-3-5-3-/ 1-5-3-5/ 1-3-5-7). Depending on how you want it to sound, you can explore different numbers so that your accompaniment would sound more fit. The example above shows 1-3-5-3 patterns. 

If you do not want to have big jumps between chord or do not want an accompaniment to sound abrupt and jumpy, you can find smoother voicings as well. 

Arpeggiation in Octaves

Both hands play the same arpeggio patterns in octave (Lean Musician, 2019). The example below shows 1-5-3-5 patterns. If you want to have a smooth voice leading, please refer to the previous example of the right hand. 

Arpeggiation with Both Hands

Both hands play arpeggios but different patterns independently. If you know which hand you feel more comfortable with, you can play more notes with the hand that you are comfortable with to lessen some burdens. 

The patterns introduced in this article may look complicated, but as I emphasized at the beginning, what music therapists are required to provide is musical support and foundations – so that our clients can fully focus on what they are working on. Therefore, if you are not confident or are feeling overwhelmed, make sure to simplify what you play on the keys and reduce/remove some complicated chords if necessary. To make these accompaniments sound more stylistic, you can apply different rhythmic patterns, including syncopation, or add some breaks or suspensions as well.

I love how keys give us the potential to explore and to provide different sound experiences.

What do you love about the keys?

Haruki Nunn

Music Therapy Intern

Simple Piano Accompaniment Patterns
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