Accompaniment for Singers: A Comprehensive Guide

singer and pianist

Types of Accompaniment

Accompaniment is the term used to describe the backing instruments, music or voice which supports and enhances the singer and song.

There are three categories of musical accompaniment:

  1. Written – includes Sheet MusicMusic BooksLyrics and Tablature.
  2. Live – includes Accompanists, Musicians, Self-Accompaniment.
  3. Recorded – Pre-recorded or self produced Backing Tracks.

Unless the singer performs ‘Acapella’ (singing without accompaniment), they will need to acquire one or more types of accompaniment.

Every song you hear played has been written by a Composer or Songwriter who initially created the song. The Composer or Songwriter may also be the artist you hear performing on the recording. The creator of the song sells or leases the right to publish their material to a Music Publishing Company who may pay an Arranger to reformat the song before manufacturing a printed version for public use in music books and sheet music format.

Formats of Written Accompaniment

Written musical accompaniment is produced in different formats for various uses. Sheet Music is written on a score that contains parts for various instruments. This can include, bass, piano and vocal melody lines plus the lyrics to the song.

Key Considerations Before Purchase

Music shops and online retailers sell each song’s sheet music individually, which is fine if you’re a singer who uses sheet music to learn the track or only requires one accompanist but a singer who performs with several musical accompanists needs to find parts for each musician. This is often referred to as a ‘Score’ or an ‘Orchestration’ which should consist of sheet music for lead and backing vocalists, piano or keyboard, bass, drum, guitar plus strings, brass, percussion and woodwind parts either included in the price or provided as optional extras for a reasonable fee.

Pre-written ‘Orchestrations’ or custom ‘Arrangements’ can be purchased from an Arranger (who may also be a Composer) or a dedicated ‘Orchestrated Arrangement Company’. Both advertise in music trade newspapers, magazines and directories – we also have a few listed in each relevant section for your convenience.

Music Books are similar to an album or compilation. They can contain the repertoire from an artists album or a combination of popular songs complete with lyrics, melody line, chords, tablature or complete score. Although books are more cost effective and can be a boon to musicians, bands and singers who play an instrument whilst performing, the drawback is that the music is not always in the original key as recorded by the artist, so do check them out before purchasing.

Before buying any form of printed or recorded accompaniment it is important that the singer gives careful consideration to choosing songs that are suitable for their Vocal Range. If the singer needs to perform the song in a different key or requires an arrangement that varies from the original recording they will either need to transpose the shop bought music or purchase a custom arrangement.

Practical Uses and Performances

The music has been purchased, the songs learnt and the singer is now ready to go out there and perform in front of an audience – or are they? Although there are vocalists who sing without accompaniment or accompany their singing by playing a musical instrument, most will need to find an Accompanist or find a band to play the music or buy Backing Tracks written in the correct key for their voice.

When applying for Auditions, in most cases the singer is expected to provide their own musical accompaniment or supply the company with their Publicity Pack complete with an up to date Demo which can be recorded using the sheet music or backing track previously purchased!

So why not just use stuff downloaded from the internet free? Well, that may be ok when evaluating whether a song is suitable but if you intend to use it for performance there are several pitfalls – other than the obvious one of illegality and unfairness to the creator of the song.

Unless you are conversant with music, enabling you to check the score and make any necessary adjustments or able to Sight Read/Sing then you have no way of ensuring that the score is arranged in a format or key that is suitable for your voice and style of singing.

The same applies to backing tracks, which although you can listen to and practice along with, may be of poor quality which becomes extremely noticeable over a P.A. System and reflects badly on the singer when performing along to them!

There are songs which are now available in the public domain (that means free to use in performance), the majority of which are Classical or Operatic music.

Performance Rights and Licensing in the UK

In the UK the cost of professionally produced music includes the permission for the purchaser to use it for private live performance or recording purposes (check the small print on the music first as some require permission even for demos). When you are employed to perform at a UK event, concert or gig, the venue, organiser, agent or promoter is responsible for paying the collection agency the copyright royalties, which are then distributed to the song’s creators and publishers.

If the artist or band wish to put on their own musical event for the general public using cover songs rather than their own original material a licence for permission has to be applied for from the PRS as well as the usual ‘Public Performance Licence’ required from the local Borough Council’s Health & Safety Department.