Guitar accompaniment

Guitar accompaniment

Hi, I haven’t been on here for quite some time, but I notice that no new discussions about guitar accompaniment have been happening. I’ve published two books/CDs on accompaniment, and I would be happy to chat seriously and objectively about any element of guitar accompaniment. So, if there are any questions, I’d like to hear them, and perhaps I can answer constructively. Anybody ready to start the ball rolling? 🙂

Re: Guitar accompaniment

I’m not sure that guitar accompaniment is always required in a session.
I have experience of playing with very good guitarists and they can really add to formal arrangements, in a band sense, but a session is much more dynamic and organic. The melody is king and chordal stuff can drift from stark and simple to weird and wonder-less in a beat.
It is always secondary, always subservient. One is enough.

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Okay then, here’s one that keeps bugging me. Say I’m playing in DADGAD and the melody changes from a tune in D to one in G. Capo or no capo? Do you stop playing the first time round to give yourself time to place it, do you try to place it in between a few beats, or do you just play in actual G without any capo?
(I’ve never yet found one of those fancy sliding capo’s that don’t buzz - if ever I find one, that would make things much easier..)

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@allan21: I agree that guitar accompaniment is not always *required* in a session - nor bouzouki, piano or bodhrán accompaniment. But a good session accompanist is capable of just the same musical exchange with the melody players as melody players are with one another.

Accompaniment in a band context is, I think, a different art from accompanying a session, easier in many ways, since arrangements can be worked out in advance and rehearsed; such arrangements may well jar with players in a session. But an accompanist that is sensitive to the mood of the tunes and the players, and can gently influence the overall dynamics without making the tune players feel ‘pushed’ in any direction, can be an asset to a session.

Yes - one is enough. Unless…

Re: Guitar accompaniment

Just play appropriate chords. Learn the tunes.
How you play the chords is up to you.
How you tune your guitar is up to you.

Why DADGAD? Uneven intervals reduce the instrument’s capabilities.
That G-A interval is odd!

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Re: Guitar accompaniment

Crosspost.

Yes, an accompaniest can add to a set of tunes.
But I think the exchange is one way: the melody players hear the tune and the backing, it is hard to react in this transaction as a group. It is nice to hear it, and move a set along, and listen anew!

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@Tijn:
"Say I’m playing in DADGAD and the melody changes from a tune in D to one in G. Capo or no capo?"

I say no capo. If you know how to play C, Am, Em and maybe Bm, you could stay in first position. All depending on the tune, of course.

Re: Guitar accompaniment

The guitar was the first instrument I learned. I hardly ever take one to a session these days - there are usually more than enough already.

DADGAD is a suitable tuning for ITM, but I find it very limiting. When I was a young guitarist, I used to mess around with lots of different tunings, imagining I had invented them. It felt liberating to break free of the what I saw as the restrictions of standard tuning prescribed by classical musicians.

It took me many years to realise something that should be obvious. Standard tuning was not invented by a committee, or decreed by some musical authority, but evolved over the many centuries that the guitar and its predecessors have existed. The intervals in standard tuning allow the player to make the most of the instrument, with the most efficient fingering and the richest possibility of chords.

On the rare occasions when I do accompany at sessions, I now tend to stick to standard tuning, or dropped D. It’s just as possible to play open, modal chords in standard as in DADGAD.

The most exotic tuning I came across was an Iraqi guitarist, who played regularly in BAGDAD.

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It’s interesting to watch old videos of Alec Finn on the old Greek bouzouki. You can hardly see him shift the capo.

Any kind of chordal accompaniment shapes the melody, you have to be sure that what you’re playing fits with the tune. ITM is very difficult to accompany and you have to really know the tune and where it plans to go.

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Seems to me that John Doyle has it pretty well figured out!
Spends most [if not all] of his time in drop D.

His sense of rhythm , lift, and chord voicing doesn’t leave a lot to be improved upon.

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"ITM is very difficult to accompany and you have to really know the tune and where it plans to go."

In which kind of music doesn’t this apply?

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There are forms of "pop music" which are relatively formulaic and easily predictable.

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Re: Guitar accompaniment

WRT knowing the tune and where it plans to go:

"In which kind of music doesn’t this apply?"

All of them of course, but some genres are more formulaic than others. It’s not difficult to figure out where the I,IV,V progression is going in a Blues song, or Bluegrass song.

Irish trad is weird and spooky by comparison. There are tunes where a strong statement of a major or minor third works, and tunes where it’s best to stay ambiguous with dyads or "power chords" that leave out the third. Knowing the tune is more important when you have things like Kid on the Mountain or Knocknagow that play games with shifting tonal centers.

The ease of ambiguous chords is one reason DADGAD is popular, but personally I use Drop-D when backing on guitar (which I don’t do as much as I used to, preferring melody on mandolin or flute). Drop-D has that nice fat D on the bottom, and only requires learning a few new chord shapes. It’s easier to choose between stronger or weaker tonal center statements depending on what’s appropriate for a tune, compared to DADGAD which can sound (to my ears) a bit too ambiguous on a full-time basis. Depending on the player, of course! There are some excellent DADGAD backers out there.

Another aspect of backing is that the rhythm is inherent in what the melody players are doing, so a backer needs to follow that rhythm and support it, not try to lead it. It’s basically the opposite of what guitar players in Americana music are used to, as being the "rhythm section" that the other musicians follow. It took me a while to figure this out, and it’s one of the big differences you hear in guitar players who "get" the music, and those who don’t. The ones who don’t are blissfully strumming away, ignoring the rhythm pulse that’s already there in the room.

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Sure, I agree about blues/bluegrass/pop/etc. but there are some recurring patterns in ITM too (a large number of Ador and Edor tunes follow one or two patterns). Some progressions in whatever style are predictable, and some are not.

Re: Guitar accompaniment

A small detail re. accompaniment of Trad music on any chord playing device, strummed or keyboarded: When in Edor or Ador, please don’t use the flat sixth major chord (Fmaj in A, Cmaj in E) no matter how tempting, exotic and Jethro Tull as they seem. The sixth in the dorian mode is the major sixth (F# in Ador, C# in Edor) and a chord raised on a flat sixth is just wrong.
Also, more generally regarding backing. All tunes can be backed by a unison drone in the appropriate key. Most tunes can be backed by two chords. Listen to the tune and where the cadences occur is where the chord change is. If the tune is in G (say) play Gmaj triad (I) and change to an Am (ii) when you hear the melody candences. Using the ii chord is a handy substitution for the more common change of going to Cmaj (IV) or D7 (V7) as Am implies a IV6 or a V9 3rd inversion partial.
Finally, really only have one backer on which ever yoke at a time. The backer is the only one truly exemporizing and your harmonical adventures with the tunes will be muddied by amyone else, even though the other backer may be playing completely appropriately. Something as simple as playing a Gmaj and a Dmaj chord simultaneously spells G, A, B, D, F#, a horrid dissonant cluster! Often heard at guitar heavy sessions.

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Very difficult but not impossible for two or more people to accompany at a session, i.e. in an unplanned manner.

The minimum requirement is that they should be able to hear each other and be aware of what each other are playing. Worst possible scenario is where one or more "accompanists" ACTIVELY IGNORE each other - this can totally derail a session and lead to unpleasant behaviour.

It’s USUALLY OK for two complementary instruments to accompany (e.g. guitar and bouzouki) IF the players obey the general guideline above. Indeed, this can be quite a pleasant experience, depending on the quality of the individual musicians.

Invariably, multiple accompanists requires massive compromise, and a willingness to adapt what comes "naturally" to what is best for the session as a whole. In situations where this is is particularly difficult, it may be best to alternate, i.e. each accompanist take it in turns to provide the "backing". But this is not an ideal situation for most players and demands patience and restraint.

While on the subject, WHY do many accompanists insist on backing songs and tunes that they have never heard before, don’t fully understand, or both? The results can be spectacularly inappropriate, and seem to be based on the innate ego of the "accompanist" which is typically in inverse proportion to the level of musical empathy they possess.

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"When in Edor or Ador, please don’t use the flat sixth major chord (Fmaj in A, Cmaj in E) no matter how tempting, exotic and Jethro Tull as they seem. The sixth in the dorian mode is the major sixth (F# in Ador, C# in Edor) and a chord raised on a flat sixth is just wrong."

Sorry, but that’s really just your opinion and one that, as far as I’ve seen, it not shared by the majority of players out there. When used sparingly as a substitute for the tonic minor chord, I find this one can add some lovely tension to a tune.

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"When in Edor or Ador, please don’t use the flat sixth major chord (Fmaj in A, Cmaj in E) no matter how tempting, exotic and Jethro Tull as they seem. The sixth in the dorian mode is the major sixth (F# in Ador, C# in Edor) and a chord raised on a flat sixth is just wrong."

I would have to agree with Tijn Berends. Whilst I don’t personally ever consciously use the "flat sixth major chord" in a dorian tune that’s not to say it shouldn’t be done.
I think as soon as you start imposing rules on accompaniment then you start to lose some of the art and musicality. Next we’ll be told we can’t play parallel fifths. As I have said before, there are no rules.

"WHY do many accompanists insist on backing songs and tunes that they have never heard before".

We don’t insist, but some players expect it. Some know your playing and reckon you are more than capable, and if you don’t play, shout out the key.
I’ve been trying to release my innate ego for years but it is still firmly locked in the deepest, darkest dungeon of my soul.

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"Whilst I don’t personally ever consciously use the "flat sixth major chord" in a dorian tune…"

Ooh! I tell a lie. I use an F chord in third part of "Da New Rigged Ship".

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A lot of dos and don’ts cropping up and CAPITAL LETTERS.
Guitarists seem to like rules and patterns.

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"I use an F chord in third part of "Da New Rigged Ship"."

So do I! (And Altan!)

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Click on my user name and you will find my thoughts on accompaniment in my profile. I tried to put together all the lessons and advice I received when learning to accompany The Music, and the contents have been reviewed by many members of the site, and corrected and amended as appropriate. I myself am just mediocre as an accompanist, but do know how to research and write, so I hope it will be useful.

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Cheers, AlBrown! I don’t play accompaniment in session but I can vouch for the usefulness of the information in your profile, which is recommended by many here who do accompany.

I was reading through it just now to hit the refresh button on my brain. I see in your sources you refer to David Mallinson, Chris Smith and Matt Heaton. The OP, Frank Kilkelly, is also a good source of information.
http://irishtradguitar.com/volume-1-2/

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