The next time you find yourself accompanying a vocalist or instrumental soloist, do yourself a favor: find a little place in the music where you can really shine. Sure, the soloist might be the "main attraction" from the audience's perspective, but you deserve to be noticed too. After all, you're doing at least 50% of the work!
Here are a few ideas to help you challenge yourself musically and stand out a little, without overshadowing the soloist:
1. If you're playing a classical piece, such as a Schubert art song, you can't alter any notes, but you can play the introduction as if you're playing at Carnegie Hall. This will raise the stakes for you artistically and bring up the level of the whole performance. People will notice.
2. On musical theater songs (or something similar), the arrangement is just that: an arrangement. It might sound good, but it's often only one of many possible ways to play the particular piece. Give yourself permission to add your own touch to the written page. Make a bass line fuller by doubling the octave. Add fuller chords to the right hand part when the music gets emotional. Often, they'll like your playing better than other pianists they've worked with, without knowing why.
3. If you're playing a jazz or pop tune, you can usually find at least 4 measures to feature yourself in a little solo. One of my favorite pop songs to play with singers is "Grand Piano" (originally sung by Nicki Minaj). On this song, I don't want to change the simple intro too much, so I usually ask the singer if I can play a 4 or 8 measure interlude halfway through the song. I'll also improvise flute-like fills behind the singer near the end when the music gets a little freer. The vocalists I've worked with have all enjoyed this and it helps me be featured without upstaging them.
So the next time you play piano with someone, find a subtle way to be noticed, to stand apart from all the other accompanists out there. It will help keep your creative spark alive and at the same time insure that you're valued and appreciated.
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