Finding meaning while playing simple piano accompaniment parts

I sometimes hear pianists, especially those at the intermediate level, say they find playing simple accompaniment patterns to be “boring.” Things like repeated quarter notes on pop ballads. The funny thing is that I myself find them very interesting.

When I heard this comment again recently, I began wondering why I find them interesting and the person who told me this didn’t enjoy them. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Beginners are usually thrilled to find that they can sound good by playing a simple quarter note pattern with chords in their right hand. After all, a lot of contemporary pop songs as well as classic rock (“Let It Be”) sound great with these simple piano patterns. But one a student approaches the intermediate level, they yearn to play something more complex. While, yes, they’re at the point when they can start developing their technique further, they often forget to enjoy the simple things too. Ultimately, it’s a mix of simple and complex that makes a pianist “advanced.”

2. I find that even a simple pattern is not boring when the melodic instrument or singer is handling the melody. The “meaning” comes from playing together and how the chords/accompaniment rhythms fit with the melody. The Imagine Dragons song “Radioactive” is a great example of this. The same 4 chords just repeat over and over, but the lyrics and melody make them sound fresh at each moment. I love playing “Radioactive” with a good vocalist!

3. The more I play piano, the deeper I get into listening to what I’m playing and also the musicians I’m performing with. So even though a part might be simple chords, I’m continually fascinated by how it sounds as the song unfolds. So I don’t get bored when I’m playing “simple” music.

4. Music is about the flow of notes through time. This aspect of music is as true with quarter notes as it is with 16ths and 32nds. Go with the flow and it stays vital.

5. If you’re playing for an audience, a lot of it is about how the audience is experiencing the music. If I know the audience is enjoying it, I’m enjoying it as well, regardless of complexity.

6. A further reason I may enjoy these simple piano parts more than intermediate players is that I know that I can play something more complex if I choose to do so. It’s like climbing the big mountain: once you do it, you’re equally happy down at sea level. So if you’re always thinking that you should be playing something more complex than you currently are, remember that you’ll get there faster if you play the simple stuff more frequently and with musical feeling. In other words, you have to fully experience every step of the journey in order to get to where you want to go.

That’s it, but there’s more in there than may be immediately apparent. Mozart, after all, wrote some very simple music. The next time you find yourself playing an easy piano part, listen carefully to each note you and your musical colleagues play. And above all, get into the flow of the rhythm more and more and more.

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