How to Play Your Keyboard with Accompaniment

The concept of using auto-accompaniment is simple: You play some notes on the lower range of your keyboard, and that tells the system to start playing some backing music in the key you gave it. You choose the style of music it plays from the choices presented on the front panel.

The result is the sound of a full band playing, giving you a professional backing track that you’re in complete control over.

How auto-accompaniment works

Playing with accompaniment usually means you have a split keyboard, with the lower range (left hand) dedicated to playing notes/chords to trigger the accompaniment and the right hand having a live sound to play your melodies with. Some arrangers and digital pianos have a full-play mode, where you play acoustic piano with two hands and the keyboard uses your two-handed playing to determine the chords.

Accompaniment uses styles or rhythms — collections of MIDI-based music tracks that play various instrument sounds to produce the sound of a backing band. They’ve been played and recorded by skilled musicians to faithfully reproduce various musical styles.

The unique thing about the accompaniment “engine” is that it can adapt these parts for any chord you give it, changing the notes within the pattern to fit the various root tones and chord qualities in music (major, minor, diminished, augmented, and so on). This adaptability is how auto-accompaniment differs from a prerecorded backing track, which rigidly plays back the exact notes you played to create the part.

Starting a pattern playing

Simple portable keyboards don’t always have full auto-accompaniment, so look for a button labeled Chords, Accompaniment On/Off, ACMP On/Off, Arranger Mode, and so on. These options indicate that you have full accompaniment parts, not just drums.

Here’s how to get a pattern playing:

  1. Press the Styles or Rhythm button.

  2. Make sure the Chord/Accomp button is on.

  3. Play a low C on the keyboard to start the pattern playing.

    If you feel comfortable, try playing a C triad (C-E-G) instead. If the music doesn’t start, press the Start/Stop or Play button while you play the note or chord.

    Accompaniment needs you to play a chord to tell the players what key and what chord type you want them to play (C major, F minor, and so on). So if you just press Start/Stop or Play, the drums will start without the rest of the band.

  4. With the music playing, select some other patterns and listen to how the music and parts change.

    For simple models, you can use the + and buttons to move up or down to the next pattern or to scroll through the available patterns one at a time. Or use the numeric keypad (if available) to directly enter the number of a specific pattern you want.

On low-end models, the pattern names may appear on the front panel. On other models, the names are displayed on the screen. Higher-end models present the Styles/Rhythms on multiple buttons, with each button representing a category of styles arranged by musical genre.

Listen to various styles being played using a simple C triad.

Breaking down an accompaniment pattern

An accompaniment pattern usually has the following elements:

  • Drums: Drums include the traditional drum kit, with bass drum, snare, hi-hat, cymbals, and so on, playing a beat.

  • Percussion: This element includes things such as tambourine, cowbell, shakers, congas/timbales/bongos, triangle, and other hand percussion, providing extra color to the rhythm.

  • Bass: Bass presents the low notes that play some sort of rhythmic, moving series of notes. It may be an electric, acoustic (upright), or synth bass sound, depending on the style of music.

  • Chordal part(s):Chordal parts are often a keyboard sound and possibly some strummed guitar parts (acoustic or electric). Having a few tracks of this sort is common.

  • Other sustained parts: These options include string, vocal, and synth pad sounds — sustained chords for additional interest and sound variety.

  • Background melodic figures: These can be string lines, brass and woodwind melodies, synth patterns and arpeggiations, and guitar licks.

Every part will not always be playing; parts may come in and out depending on a number of settings and factors, such as which variation you’re using and the taste of the pattern programmer.

This is a style broken down into its separate elements or tracks.

Mixing the sound of the band

Mixing a musical recording involves adjusting the volume balance of each of the instruments, deciding which speaker they come out of (called panning), and possibly adjusting or changing the effects that are being used. Mid- and higher-priced arrangers give you access to these functions. Taking control of these aspects of your backing band allows you to make the sound exactly the way you want it.

How do you know whether your keyboard has this capability? Look for a feature/parameter called the Mixer.

[Credit:  Images courtesy of Korg Italy; Casio America, Inc; and Yamaha Corporation of America]
Credit: Images courtesy of Korg Italy; Casio America, Inc; and Yamaha Corporation of America

A skilled musician/producer has already volume-balanced all the styles and rhythms in your keyboard, so you probably don’t need to make big changes. But two common scenarios require a little adjustment here and there:

  • Slightly increasing or decreasing the volume of a backing instrument: These fixes are small; you’re not trying to redo the whole band mix.

  • Turning off a part: This process is called muting a part or channel.

To change the volume of a part (it may be called a Part or a Track), you select it, use the interface controls to increase or decrease the volume parameter value, and then resave the style/rhythm.

To turn off a part entirely, you may have two options. If your mixer design has a dedicated Mute parameter, you can use that parameter to turn off the part. If it doesn’t have a Mute, simply turn the part volume all the way down to 00. Again, be sure to resave the Style/Rhythm.

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