Percussion: The Art of Accompaniment

The new ABRSM Percussion syllabus is full of excellent accompanied pieces. It’s a requirement at Grades 1 to 3 that at least one of your pieces is accompanied, to encourage beginner percussionists to make music with others from the very start. But not all the accompaniments are for piano, some are on percussion too so you can practise and perform these along with your teacher.

So what are the important things to think about when playing with an accompanist? Here’s a selection of accompanied pieces from the ABRSM syllabus to help us explore what’s involved.

Grade 2 Timpani (plus low tom)

Andrea Vogler: What’s for Tea Tonight?

It’s always worth looking at the accompaniment yourself so that you know what to expect. Or even better, if it’s a percussion part see if you can play it through yourself! This will help you become more familiar with the piece as a whole and you’ll know what to expect once you start rehearsing. If there’s a recording of the two parts being performed together that will also help. Or maybe your teacher could record the accompaniment so that you can play along at home.

Grade 5 Tuned Percussion

Zara Nunn: Afternoon Sorcery

There are elements of counterpoint between the two instruments in this piece, so you may both have melodic moments that need to be brought through the texture. There may be some obvious indications of balance in the music where you have different dynamic markings within the same passage, as in this piece, but in general, as the soloist, make sure you play out a little above the accompanist. See if you’re able to listen to the accompaniment while playing your own part at the same time and be aware of the sound as a whole. It can take time to develop this skill but give it a go in your lessons and see how it goes!

Most music with accompaniment will require you to stop playing and come back in again, so be careful when counting rests during your own practice time. Once you rehearse with the accompanist, you can become familiar with what they play during those rests so that you know what to listen for before you come back in. Don’t forget to practise with your accompanist, or anyone who can play the accompaniment along with you, as much as you can too.

Grade 6 Snare Drum

Jill Jarman: New Orleans Sunrise

This piece demonstrates a variety of textures between solo and accompaniment. It’s important to be aware of moments when you’re are in rhythmic unison with the accompaniment so that you can play in time with each other and clearly lead the tempos and strikes. Make sure that flams and ruffs, for example, start before the beat and make the main note easy for the accompanist to fit in with. There are also bars where the accompaniment has rests and the percussionist has a solo moment so be prepared for these. It can be quite daunting otherwise when the accompaniment suddenly stops, and you are left to play on your own!

Sometimes the snare drum interjects between the pianist’s rhythms, so think about where the accompaniment fits. There’s also a change of pace into a ‘New Orleans 2nd line drum feel’ so find some footage or recordings of New Orleans 2nd Line Drumming to learn about this and have something to refer to. You’ll need to set the new pace clearly here too and bring the accents out for an accompanist to latch on to. Finally, there’s a rallentando at the end in the accompaniment so make sure you can hear where to place the final note and play this in unison.

I hope you enjoy exploring the accompanied pieces in the new Percussion syllabus and making music with others!

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