Flute Punch

Improvising with Harmonic Accompaniment

Posted on: November 3, 2008

Once you get started with improvising, you’ll quickly find that you’d like to have some accompaniment to support you. Here’s some different sources for accompaniments (mostly jazz-oriented, as that’s my personal favorite!):

Live Musicians

Playing with other musicians is always the most rewarding option! But many of us don’t have a complete rhythm section at our disposal. Fortunately there are some other helpful options.

Pre-Recorded Accompaniments

Jazz musicians are probably most familiar with the Jamey Aebersold play-alongs. These are books that contain several lead sheets for instruments of various keys/clefs that come with a CD of a rhythm section playing several choruses of each song. I’ve also used Music Minus One on occasion.

Automated Accompaniment Software

In order to use one of these programs, you’ll need a lead sheet of the song you want to play. A lead sheet consists of a melody line with chords above it. What you then do is type the chords into the software, set your style and tempo, and then you can play along with the accompaniment it generates. The best automated accompaniment I know of is Band in a Box. The disadvantage of this is that the accompaniment can have a “canned” sound to it, although this has improved over the years. But I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages; namely, 1) you can change the tempo or the key, and 2) over a longer period of time, it’s more cost-effective.

Whichever method(s) you use, there are important reasons to use harmonic accompaniment, including:

  1. It forces you to play in time and learn to keep track of where you are in the music
  2. It allows your ear to hear the harmonic structure over which the melody is laid and how your improvised notes are fitting into that harmony

That second point is important, because as you gradually learn what notes sound like over the various chord qualities, you can have more control over what it is you want to say with your music.

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