Accompanying a vocalist on guitar is a role that often flies under the radar, but it’s one that I find very rewarding. I used to do it a lot when I lived in the New York City area, and last night I got to do it again. Here is a video of one of the tunes we did.
Accompanying a singer is like being the unsung hero of the performance. You’re not in the spotlight, but you’re the backbone that holds everything together. It’s a unique joy to provide the musical foundation that allows the vocalist to shine. Here are some of the demands of the job:
Sight Reading: Accompanying singers often involves sight reading charts which can keep you on your toes and sharpens your musical skills.
Quick and Accurate Transcription: Sometimes if the singer asks you ahead of time if you can play certain songs, you may choose to look the chords up online. Unfortunately, these are rarely accurate, so you must be able to quickly and accurately transcribe the music and write clear charts that you can read later.
Transposition On the Fly: Sometimes, you’ll be asked to transpose a song in the heat of the moment. This demands a deep understanding of music theory and a quick musical intuition.
Covering the Singer: Your job is to support the singer no matter what. This means adapting to any spontaneous changes in the performance, ensuring the vocalist always sounds their best.
Soloing without Accompaniment: When it’s time to take a solo, you do it without accompaniment, unless you use a looper pedal. This requires a different mindset, where you step into the spotlight briefly before seamlessly returning to your supporting role. You must be able to switch gears quickly.
Volume Control: Playing at the right volume is crucial. You must complement the singer without overpowering them or fading into the background.
Understanding Feel and Groove: Knowing the tempo, feel, and groove of each song is essential. It ensures that you sync up perfectly with the vocalist, creating a seamless musical experience.
Creating Memorable Intros and Endings: Sometimes, you’ll need to spontaneously initiate compelling intros and endings. This adds a unique touch to the performance.
Despite the demands, accompanying singers is a deeply rewarding experience. It hones your musical instincts, sharpens your improvisational skills, and fosters a strong sense of musical camaraderie. There’s a special satisfaction in knowing that you’re an integral part of creating a memorable performance.