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Accompanying yourself: it’s a giggle

by Bruce Siegel on December 10th, 2010

Here on, you can learn to use chords to accompany your own singing. To show you how approachable and fun this can be, here’s 8-year-old Ali to demonstrate. (I couldn’t bear to edit out the opening moments of this video, and I think you’ll understand why when you see it.)

Notice that Ali is playing a genuine accompaniment, rather than merely duplicating the melody. It’s musically effective because what she’s singing and what she’s playing are completely independent of each other.

Since her hand is still small, Ali is playing only two notes at a time in the right hand, as opposed to the 3-note chords an adult would be playing.

Besides the all-important fun/motivation factor, there are powerful reasons for learning to play and sing arrangements like these. For starters:

• They’re great for teaching chords. And when you have a handle on chords, you can memorize faster and more securely, sight-read more easily, and be more creative.
• Since Ali learned this arrangement by ear (and thus never had to read from the page), she’s been able to put all her attention on technique, rhythmic flow, and singing. (Notice how strong she is in all three areas.)
• When you sing, you develop your most important musical asset—your ear.

Teachers: don’t expect to find arrangements like this in books. But you just might begin to enjoy the process of custom-tailoring them yourself, which includes finding a key to suit your student’s vocal range, and making adjustments to the piano part based on hand size and level of ability.

Ali and her mom, by the way, are a great learning team, and you can read about that part of the story here.

[12.14.10 update: here's Ali playing and singing Imagine, with its more complex accompaniment. ]

And on this page, you can hear other examples of students playing and singing piano/vocals—some are harder, some easier.

  1. Bruce! Okay, beyond being totally ADORABLE, that was terrific! I am, as always with everything you do, totally inspired and uplifted to try out your ideas on my own kids, I can see my little 7 yr old Frankie playing this.
    Thank you so much for this contribution!

  2. Bruce Siegel permalink

    Hey Julie!

    I was thinking about you as I posted this. I thought, If anyone’s gonna go for this, it’ll be Julie! For whatever reason, many (or even most teachers) seem pretty indifferent to this kind of thing (piano/vocals).

    Anyway, thanks so much for your continued support with the things I do.

    And let me know how it goes with Frankie!


  3. This is great! I encourage a number of my students to sing and accompany themselves, but I rarely get any takers. Any hints on encouraging this?

    One bit of success, though, my 14 year old daughter just made her public debut singing and accompanying the Bach/Gonoud Ave Maria. What a proud moment for dad/teacher (and her voice teacher)!

  4. Bruce Siegel permalink

    Thanks, Henry! What a pleasure to hear from you—I’ve long been a big fan of your posts to piano-ped-l. (For those of you not familiar with it, it’s an online teachers’ email listserv, or forum). I love your philosophy of “I work for the child, not the parent,” which is exactly how I feel.

    Congratulations on your daughter! Playing AND singing that song is definitely an accomplishment.

    Some kids do simply refuse to sing. But the youngest ones usually enjoy it, so I start them at 5 or 6, even at their first lessons. Here’s a really simple arrangement that kids can play and sing after just a few weeks. (About 3/4 of the way down the page: Breanna.)

    And then we just keep building from there. I generally like to have a kid working on two projects at a time—a piano solo and a piano/vocal. It’s a matter of focus and priorities: depending on their preferences, my students may spend less time with the classics, but often become songwriters, or band members, or improvisors.

  5. I love it Bruce! Great job Ali! When I interview new students one of the questions I ask is if they like to sing, many times the answer is yes. I REALLY need to make sure I incorporate more singing into the lesson experience. What fun for both student and teacher! Like Julie, I am totally inspired and uplifted to do more of this in lessons! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Bruce Siegel permalink

    Thanks, Jennifer! I’ll pass along your congratulations to Ali.

  7. Yoke Wong permalink

    Thanks for sharing this lovely video of Ali. She is a natural musician – sings well and plays musically.

    Very well done by a student this age. I will need to share this with my students during their private piano lessons.

  8. Bruce Siegel permalink

    Thanks, Yoke! I’ll pass that along to Ali.

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