Different Types of Accompaniments

Any music lover is likely to be called upon to accompany a song now and then. It is helpful to note the different types of accompaniment employed by composers to give their melodies a harmonic background. Dr. Ralph Dunston, of Cambridge, gives these interesting examples of typical song accompaniments.

The first is a simple harmonize setting of the melody, as in The Soldiers Bride, by Shumann.


The second consists of simple chords, as in Dr. Arne’s Where the B Sucks.


The third consists of chords in reiterated notes, or in various forms of arpeggio, generally with a steady bass. As examples, we select Schubert’s To Music and Mendelssohn’s On Wings of Song.


The fourth type is that formed from a characteristic melodic or rhythmic figure repeated through several measures. Schubert’s Linden Tree is a good example of the former; his Imprisoned Huntsman, of the latter.


The fifth type is distinguished by a counter melody, forming a kind of duet with the solo part, as in the following extract from Gounod’s Redemption.


Sometimes the accompaniment even contains the chief melody, as in the following passage from The Lost Chord, by Sullivan. (A still more striking example would be The Monotone, by Peter Cornelius, but we would need to quote the entire song.)


The sixth, and most elaborate, sort of accompaniment, is that of a descriptive dramatic type, equal in importance to the solo part, and sometimes the chief feature of the composition: as in Schubert’s Erl King, Liszt’s Lorelie, or Henschel’s Young Dietrich.

In a song of any length, several of these styles may be used in turn, but it is not good to be constantly changing the form of accompaniment without definite purpose. The more beautiful the melody, the less it needs in the way of embellishment.