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5 Ways to Decide Which Musical Style Will Work Best for a Song

January 16, 20234 min read

5 Ways to Decide Which Musical Style Will Work Best for a Song

In this article, we'll look at ways to assess songs that you want to play. When we select pieces of music, we'll find ways to treat them so that you sound your best.

In New England, we enjoy the beautiful colors of the leaves as they change and eventually fall during the season of autumn. Because of this, I selected the song Autumn Leaves by Joseph Kosma with English lyrics by Johnny Mercer.

One of the most famous recordings of this song was by the pianist Roger Williams. One of the reasons that Williams' recordings was so popular was that he found ways to create the effects of leaves falling in his arrangement. Autumn Leaves is also a jazz standard which opens you up for a variety of interpretations.

5 Ways to determine the accompaniment

Here are 5 Ways to Help You Decide Which Musical Style Will Work Best for a Particular Song

1. Tempo

Can the piece work at a slow, medium or fast tempo? Or does it only sound good at a specific speed?

Once you get comfortable with a piece, you can pick up the speed if you want to do that. Some songs actually sound better at a faster tempo and some don't. The key is to experiment with different speeds (use your metronome to help you assess the speed) and decide where YOU feel comfortable playing the song.

2. Meter

Just because a song is written in 4/4 time, doesn't mean you have to play it in that time signature.

I've played many songs written in 4/4 as jazz waltzes i.e. 3/4 time. For example, My Romance, a song by Rodgers and Hart is one of my favorites. Another example of changing meters is my rendition of Norwegian Wood, a song originally written in 3/4 time which I played in 4/4.

So be open to changing the meter of a song in order to find the best way for YOU to express yourself.

3. Overarching Style: Flowing, Latin or Swing

Before you dig into the sections of a song and choose the types of accompaniment patterns you want to use to make your rendition of a piece colorful and interesting, it's important to decide the overarching style that speaks to you when you think of a particular song. One example is the flowing style. If the piece you want to play will work well this way, you can select an accompaniment style that works well. For example, my rendition of Can't Help Falling in Love uses Alberti bass and then rolling 10ths. But I would never have known which accompaniment pattern to use if I hadn't FIRST realized that this song would work best in a flowing style.

Another interesting overarching style is Latin. There are several Latin rhythms, so deciding whether to go in this direction BEFORE selecting the accompaniment styles is very important. One example is the samba style that I used with I'll Remember April

There are many other Latin styles as well, so starting with the overarching style can really make the difference.

The 3rd overarching style is swing

As you'll see in the next section, there are a variety of accompaniment patterns from which to choose, and swing has quite a few. As an example, I've included my performance of Autumn Leaves below. Although I have played this song as a Latin and as a flowing song, I like the swing feel.

Once you select the Overarching style of Flowing, Latin or Swing you are ready to select your accompaniment styles.

4. Accompaniment Style

There are a variety of musical styles that you can use in your arrangement of a song. Depending on the song's form, you may be able to use more than one style to create variety in your rendition of a song. Here's an example of the TAP System in action: in my performance of Take the A Train I used a few different accompaniment styles to keep the piece interesting for listeners.

To summarize: try different accompaniment styles with the song you select and see which pattern works best with each section. Then play through the piece and see if you like how it flows. One of the best ways to learn about accompaniment styles and how to use them is with my Transformational Approach to Piano-the TAP System.

5. Consider Using a Rubato Introduction

Rubato literally means "robbing" the time. Essentially, before you play a song at the tempo you select, you can play it in an expressive way with flourishes, runs, chord arpeggios and at a variety of speeds changed every measure or two. I often start my songs with a rubato introduction so that there is time to digest the beauty of the song before launching into tempo. You can learn more about this and see how I applied this to Night and Day in my blog What Is Rubato? How It Can Help You Enrich Your Performances of "Night and Day" and Other Standards.

Want more help with determining the accompaniment styles YOU prefer?
Get my FREE Course
Song Playing Starter Kit for Pianists Today!

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Diana Mascari

Diana Mascari has taught piano to hundreds of adults and children for more than 45 years. She holds two Masters of Music degrees from New England Conservatory and taught keyboard harmony to music majors while pursuing doctoral studies at Boston University. Her work as music director for a multi-cultural Presbyterian Church has continued for four decades, and her jazz and classical compositions have been performed worldwide. Diana has been performing for more than 50 years. From solo jazz piano (her first love) to commercial groups touring the East Coast to leading her own jazz ensembles at many colleges and jazz clubs throughout New England.

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