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Repertoire, Arrangement and Accompaniment

In addition to the skills of just playing, you will also want the right kind of repertoire for the style or aspect of harp music you wish to follow (or a grounding in each aspect until you are sufficiently knowledgeable to make your own decision); to learn the skills of arrangement (i.e. the setting of the tune with a left hand, with chords, base line and harmony notes) and accompaniment (i.e. the playing of chording to yourself singing or someone else or the session playing the tune).

On the skill of accompanying: or ‘vamping’ as some call it: here follows a few words of caution:
On ‘Vamping’…… (‘To vamp’ refers to accompanying and the idea of ‘making it up as you go along’)
I have heard it from many ‘players’ that have learned one accompaniment sequence to force this on every tune played – as if ‘one size fits all’. This is enormously uncomfortable for not only the audience, but also all the other musicians in the session. Most people are polite and will say nothing – but if you are offending with playing bad accompaniments, watch for these signs:

  • Musicians can’t look you in the eye, occasionally grimace and won’t engage you in conversation
  • They lay their instruments on the table after the set of tunes and chat for long periods
  • They make out that they are putting their instruments away (disconnecting the flute; placing the fiddle on or in the case)…
  • They stop playing altogether and hope you go away – or they pack up and go away!

It is absolutely essential that the ‘natural harmony’ (that which is determined in the tune itself) is at least appreciated before the player would apply more adventurous chording - which could be very innovative and exciting if done right – or nastily conflicting if not. And if there are other accompaniment instruments in the session doing something else, the overall din will be horrible. Yet, a number of particularly the ‘gung-ho’ younger players will persist - thinking they are playing great and essential to the session experience…… Oh dear!

Good accompaniment – and consistently complementary accompaniment is perfectly possible with accompaniment training. Understanding how chords work together and how to make rhythm patterns more lively or leisurely is a basic skill - and every teacher should be able to lead their students into understanding what they’re doing and working their accompanying intuitively and confidently. There are easy formulae, and recognising which is appropriate when, is the necessary skill to learn.