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Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/Can a song be accompanied by a drum and piano only?

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Question
Dear Sir,

I play piano but never try it with other instruments to accompany a song.

I would like to ask about the function of a drum.

Is it good enough to combine a piano and a drum to accompany a singer? Or with a drum, you would need more instruments like guitar and synth?

My sincere thanks,

Answer
Mahmouz,

Thank for asking this very relevant question.

Percussion (any type of drum or rhythmic instrument that is struck) is the most important element of an arrangement once anything more than a solo piano or guitar is added.  The percussion is the heartbeat of the song and the particular rhythm pattern chosen gives the song its 'feel', style. flavor and expression, in both live and recorded performance.

However,  in my many years of working with songwriters and teaching rhythm theory, it is also clear that the easiest way to totally ruin an arrangement is to use the percussion inappropriately.   Because it is so important, percussion must be exactly in time, at precisely the right volume in the mix, and the right sounds/textures to enhance the song.  You have to make decisions like tight snare/loose snare, ride cymbal or closed hi-hat,  hand percussion (e.g. congas), orchestral percussion (tympani/bells, triangle)  melodic toms or standard toms,  hand claps, sticks vs brushes, EQ filtered sound (as in techno/hip-hop/pop) vs pure etc.

Also, you need to know enough about timing to discern whether your song is straight time 4/4, swing time 12/8, tuple 3/4 vs 6/8, or tuple swing like 9/8.   Once you know the time signature, you need to decide where in that time signature the accents should fall (typically, a back beat 4/4 is 2 and 4; 12/8 is 4, 10;  6/8 is 1,4;  and 3/4 is 1).  However each song has it's own inherent rhythm and the role of the percussion track is to enhance that inherent rhythm, not fight with it or change it.

Fills and cymbal crashes should be placed so as to make clear the inherent musical phrasing and section changes.

Most percussion can be done via midi or with virtual drums (using actual acoustic drums requires
several separate recording channels and expert multiple mic placement, as well as expert playing).
Good virtual and midi drums allows for non-percussionists to get great drum tracks, if arranged well.    Drum loops are available as a tool, but I only recommend them if you do not have the skill to actually create your own rhythm patterns.

Learning to create good percussion arrangements is a skill second only to good lyric writing in its overall value as a songwriter.

So the bottom line for your question is that you can certainly add percussion even if you have only a piano (however a bass would also be extremely beneficial).  But do this only if you have
the knowledge and skill to make it a well-executed, well arranged, and well mixed percussion track -- otherwise it will detract from your song and likely ruin the recording.  Use percussion only when you are ready to use it well.

The best thing to do is to listen many times to recordings you like, and focus on how the percussion is used i.e. placement, sounds,  dynamics, etc.  Then imitate what you hear in your own recordings or live performances.

Good luck in all your projects.  

Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

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Bill Pere

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Can answer questions on : Technical aspects of lyric and music compostion; How to give and receive objective critique; Arranging and production; Concrete vs abstract imagery; Use of metaphor; Rhyme techniques; Song Structure; Collaboration; Songwriter Associations; Promotion; Guitar technique; Music Business;

Experience

Grammy-Award-winning songwriter; President of the Connecticut Songwriters Association and Director of the Connecticut Songwriting Academy; Named one of the Top 50 Innovators and Guiding Lights of the Music Industry in 2008 by Music Connection Magazine; Author of "Songcrafters' Coloring Book:The Essential Guide to Effective and Successful Songwriting." Named Independent Artist of the Year,by the 2003 national Independent Music Conference; 30 years as a professional singer-songwriter; 16 original CD's released;
Have had songs placed on other artists' CD's. Twice named Connecticut Songwriter of the Year.
20 years as Executive Director of the LUNCH Ensemble. Have attended more than 200 presentations by top industry professionals and have critiqued thousands of songs. Have written and produced dozens of stage plays and hundreds of concert events; Have coached hundreds of aspiring songwriters, and collaborated with several award winning writers. Have written commissioned songs as an Official Connecticut State Troubadour. Music Director of youth choirs and music camps.

Organizations
Connecticut Songwriters Association (President); LUNCH Ensemble (Local United Network to Combat Hunger -- Exec, Director); CMEA (Connecticut Music Educators Association); Folk Alliance; Association For Psychological Type; Songsalive; WE R Indie; Creative Songwriting Academy;

Publications
Songcrafters' Coloring Book: The Essential Guide to Effective and Succesful Songwriting Songwriters Market (2001, 2002); Connecticut Songsmith; Contemporary Songwriter Magazine; Songwriters Musepaper;
Songcrafter's Coloring Book;   Strategies for Teaching Guitar;

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Masters Degree Molecular Biology; Certified MBTI Practitioner (Myers Briggs Type Indicator); Connecticut Secondary Public School Teaching Certificate; Author: "Songcrafters' Coloring Book: The Essential Guide to Effective and Successful Songwriting"

Awards and Honors
2012 Grammy; Named one of the Top 50 Innovators and Guiding Lights of the Music Industry in 2008 by Music Connection Magazine; Independent Artist of the Year, (2003 national Indie Conference); Official Connecticut State Troubadour, appointed by CT Commission on the Arts, 1995 ; 1982 and 1992 CT Songwriter of the Year; 2000 Award for 20 years of Outstanding Service to Songwriters;
2002 CSA Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education through Music; Numerous awards for outstanding community outreach through music; 1997 Citation from Connecticut Legislature for exemplary dedication to community outreach through music. 1995 Renaissance Award for multiple music achievements in a single year.   Invited Presenter and Mentor at various Music Conventions

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