General piano accompaniment tricks and tips

Started by Static, March 21, 2021, 05:40:29 PM

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I'm creating this thread to summarize our presentations from Saturday evening. I'll start:

For orchestral reductions, I generally think about these three ideas:

Chord balance
  • Generally speaking, the lower you are in the piano's range, the wider the intervals between chord tones should be
    • Octaves and 5ths usually sound better in the low register
    • 4ths, 3rds, and 2nds usually sound better in the mid-upper register
  • You don't need to double notes even if they were doubled in the original score, especially for chord extensions (you don't need three 7ths or 9ths in one chord).
  • The goal is to create a similar listening experience on the piano, not transcribe exactly what the score is.
  • More notes does not always equal a fuller sound

Adjust accompaniment patterns when necessary
  • Many times, putting accompaniment parts in their original range renders your piano arrangement unplayable or gets in the way of the melodic material.
    • It's okay to move around parts. High-range harp arpeggios are often more suited to the LH in the mid-low register, for example.
  • Simplifying parts usually results in a more pianistic arrangement - no need to fill your piece with 32nd note flourishes when a simple 8th note arpeggio gets the same point across.

Timbral variety
  • It can be hard to represent the wide variety of timbres that an orchestra can create. There are several ways to approximate these differences on a piano:
    • Range: The different piano ranges have slightly varying timbres. The extreme low and high registers are woody and percussive, while the middle registers are more resonant. Use this to your advantage when translating parts from an orchestral instrument to piano.
    • Articulation: Different articulations can help get across various characteristics of other instruments. Tremolos can emulate timpani in the low register or steel drums in the mid-high register. Arpeggiated octaves can represent pizzicato strings. Fast runs in the upper register sound similar to upper woodwind flourishes.

Going off of the timbre idea, percussion can be emulated on piano in various ways too:
  • Timpani = low octaves (single notes or tremolos)
  • Snare drum (orchestral) = tremolos or other rhythms in the low-mid register
  • Mallet percussion (marimba, xylophone, etc.) = write these parts as you hear them, piano is the closest instrument to these
  • Drum set patterns = use low notes for the kick drum and higher notes for the snare and/or hi-hat. Fills can be represented with arpeggios with various intermediate notes to represent the toms.
  • Hand percussion = if all else fails, try writing out percussion parts to be played by the pianist (claps, taps, stomps, etc.)

Linked here is a copy of my presentation, which goes into more detail and highlights specific examples from NinSheetMusic arrangers.


My part covers some fine examples of good accompaniment patterns that demonstrate some points I wanted to mention.


There's not much in the slides, so I'll be converting the info to post form and updating this message accordingly.

It depends on the track

Ultimately, the kind of accompaniment you want to write will end up differing based on the track itself. Write in what you feel is a good representation of the original. That said, here are some things you can think about...

#1 - Craft a similar texture

Sometimes trying to write in something exactly resembling the original piece doesn't work super well, due to accompaniment being driven by percussion or consisting of multiple distant parts. In such cases, crafting a left hand part that captures the rhythm, the chord, and the general contour of the original can get the point across without matching voices exactly.

"Great Canyon" from Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue/Red Rescue Team by Bespinben
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[Cover by Latios212]

Note how the bottom staff is relatively easy to play, matches the important bass notes and emphasizes the same rhythms through the way it moves up and down.

#2 - Vary it up

Many pieces have a wide range of textures and dynamics, so don't feel constrained to writing an accompaniment that is consistent the whole way through. Think about how you can use a variety of techniques to build up and release tension.

"Battle III" from Octopath Traveler by Static
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[Sheet music video]

This excerpt is a great example of using patterns from single notes, to alternating bass and offbeat dyads, to octaves and broader up-and-down patterns to carry the arrangement from the piece's tamest section to its climax.

#3 - Pedal can take single notes, octaves, and power chords a long way

With a grand orchestral accompaniment, there may be a temptation to write something grandiose and difficult. But all things considered, some very simple accompaniment patterns can end up sounding full and rich with the use of pedal. Single bass notes, octaves, and power chords can help fill in the texture even when they exist to underscore the root of the chord.

"Fire Emblem Theme" from Super Smash Bros. Brawl by Latios212
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[Cover by daj]

See how in this piece, the powerful low bass notes coupled with the chords in the right hand make the arrangement sound full without any motion in the left hand aside from chord changes.

#4 - Maintaining drive

Some pieces maintain an extremely high level of energy throughout which may seem difficult to maintain by using one hand on the piano. When necessary, don't hesitate to keep the motion going - but it doesn't have to be all chords all the time. Single notes or arpeggios interspersed with powerful chord strikes to emphasize the rhythm can do this very well.

"You Will Know Our Names" from Xenoblade Chronicles by Maelstrom
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[Sheet music video]

In this example, the "chorus" of one of the most powerful battle themes out there, the left hand part consists of single notes and some chords, with hardly any rapid up and down motion. Though it may be fast, such an accompaniment is not very difficult to play and provides a great backing to the melody.

#5 - Just what's in the original

Many of the examples above are of rather busy or intimidating pieces. Sometimes, though, the original track will lay out exactly what you need without the need for any additional embellishments. When considering how to write an accompaniment part, don't discount what's in the original verbatim if it's workable for piano.

"Goron City (Day)" from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild by Olimar12345
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[Cover by daj]

Here, the low left hand part stands on its own - and with the right hand melody so low, the two voices work together to paint a good picture of the original.

#6 - Left hand isn't everything

It's important to keep in mind what the right hand is doing. While the left hand accompaniment sets the foundation of the arrangement, it's not something to be written entirely independently of what the right hand is doing. There's a trade-off of how much harmony and detail to include in the left hand vs. the right.

"Egg Planet" from Super Mario Galaxy by Sebastian
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In this arrangement, the left hand just rhythmically plays C in the bass for the majority of the A section, which would sound pretty bland on its own especially compared to the lush orchestral Galaxy sound. But given that the right hand contains all the harmonies and plays them along with the melody, the two parts come together to form a complete-sounding piano piece.

See what other arrangers and performers are doing!

These are just some random pointers and pieces of info that can help you experiment on your own. But as I've implied with these examples, possibly the best way to learn is to go out there, see what other arrangers are doing, and incorporate different ideas into your experimentation when arranging. Look at sheets on site and other sheets arrangers have in submissions, and try them out on the piano. See what kinds of accompaniment patterns you like or don't like the sound of, and what parts you think are easy or hard to play. Remember to take your time to figure out what works best, and to have fun! :)
My arrangements and YouTube channel!

Quote from: Dudeman on February 22, 2016, 10:16:37 AM
who needs education when you can have WAIFUS!!!!!



Accompanying a Melody

Giving the left hand something meaningful and appropriate to do when arranging for piano

We who arrange video game music have a great ability to inspire young musicians to take up a lifelong love of music. Since newer generations are more exposed to video games and their music, they are our most popular demographic. That being said, it is imperative that we carefully craft our arrangements; these could be (and often are) some of the first piano pieces that new pianist find. How we arrange a musical accompaniment for a familiar melody is something that we must do with great care and intention.

The word "Accompaniment" is often defined as:
  • A musical part that supports or partners a solo instrument, voice, or group.
  • Something that is supplementary to or complements something else.

The key words here are "Supports", "Partners", "Supplementary", "Complements". Good accompaniments do all of these things; they support the melody, they complement the melody, etc.

However, an accompaniment is not more important than the melody. We need to aid the melody without being overly complex. With these ideas in mind, here are some good things to consider prior to beginning your arrangement:
  • Who might play this? As mentioned above, our visitors and the ones typically searching for this music are more often younger in age and not the concert pianists playing with symphony orchestras (as much as we would all like that to be the case!). I try to always consider erring on the side of keeping things more simple, if I can.
  • What is the duration, or how long will the arrangement be? If you find yourself arranging a 6 second loop, it doesn't make much sense for it to be overly difficult to learn. Conversely, a more substantial piece would be a great place to ask more from your pianist. Ending credits tracks make for great places to challenge your pianists in that fashion.
  • What musical style is the piece in? Does that style have a typical accompaniment pattern or ostinato? If so, try to incorporate it.
  • What is the tempo? Remember that the tempo can be it's own challenge. If there are many notes to play and the tempo is very quick, you might want to keep the accompaniment simple.

Getting Started

When arranging for the piano try to keep the melody separated from the accompaniment (physically). Assigning one hand to the melody and one to the accompaniment can help keep things easy to organize, read, and most importantly: play. Remember that the melody is paramount, and that preserving it in an easily recognizable way is of the utmost importance. However, feel free to take certain creative liberties in your accompaniment in order to make a piece more approachable. To come are three tips that can help in creating simple yet meaningful accompaniment patterns.

Tip no. 1: Hand/Wrist Movement

It is a good idea to consider how the wrist will move when playing, especially if repetition is involved. Study the picture below:

Moving your wrists in a rotational manner is much easier to do than rapidly raising and lowering them. This vertical motion fatigues our wrists much faster as well, thus should be minimized or used in a manner that provides breaks often. Here are some examples of both styles of motion:

The first two examples are very common to see in piano literature, and that is no accident; these patterns are pleasant to listen to and easy to play with little practice. The third example can be difficult to play for long periods of time, especially at a quick tempo. This style of accompaniment should be avoided for piano writing, if possible.

Tip no. 2: Chord Inversions & Note Choice

In order to create an effective accompaniment, you may need to invert the harmonies in order to simplify them for keyboard use. If you are considering an accompaniment pattern which includes alternation to and from a single-note bass, strive to define the 3rd, 7th, 5th, etc. within this range:

This range typically keeps things from sounding too low and muddy, while also keeps us anchored below the treble clef's area, (where the melody might be, which we want to distance ourselves from). Think: "E to E".

Tip no. 3: Tempo Influence

As I have already briefly mentioned, faster tempos are their own challenge. Try not to make your accompaniment overly difficult at a fast tempo. If you find yourself arranging a tune with a brisk tempo, try to keep accompaniment figures within an octave. This will help keep things reasonable for the performer.

Example: Route 2 from Pokémon Black/White (mm. 5-8)


Piano arrangement:

Note that in the piano arrangement:
  • the melody is intact while the bass and harmonic ideas are combined for a simple accompaniment pattern. The counter melody is omitted for simplicity.
  • the accompaniment only ever spans an octave between the root and the following chord(s). At this tempo, keeping everything within an octave's reach certainly keeps things simple for the player.
  • the chordal notes chosen are mostly between the "E"s. Even with those occasional third-line D's, the chords are distanced from the bass tones and never come into conflict with the melody, even when it dips below the staff.
  • the arpeggiated accompaniment figure is simplified to repeating notes for ease of playing.

Lastly: Try it Out!

Once finished, take your product to a piano and physically put your fingers on the keys. Take it as slowly as you need to, this is not a performance. Let your fingers tell you what will work and what won't. Play only one hand at a time if you need to, and consider what challenges might be present, both from what you play and what you don't play. You do not have to be a concert pianist to do a playtest!

Here is a link to the original slideshow from the presentation. It has audio samples form the example if you would like to listen to them.

Visit my site: VGM Sheet Music by Olimar12345 ~ Quality VGM sheet music available for free!