Article: Get More Mileage on Your Songs

Get More Mileage on Your Songs

Ever struggle with not having enough music for your gig?  You can get more mileage out of your existing songs by extending your music with various techniques. Here are some suggestions:

1. Repeat the entire song or parts of it. This is the technique most often used but instead of repeating the song exactly the same, try to vary it each time you repeat. Use techniques such as altering the rhythm, making slight changes to the melody, using some surprise chords, using different dynamics, playing the piece with some rubato, taking pauses here and there, or play it in a different mode or a different octave. The number of variations are limitless.

2. Make up an introduction. Church organists often prepare the congregational hymn by taking the last phrase and using it as an introduction. You could also just play the chord progression of the entire song or the chords to the last part of the song. Try it with block chords, arpeggios, or broken chords and experiment with different octaves or special effects. (see suggestion number 9)

3. Add a Coda at the end. This can be done in a number of ways. Repeat the last phrase of the song but twice as slow. Use the accompaniment or chords without the melody to make an ending.

4. Create transitions. Insert a section in between repetitions of the song by playing just the chord progression of the song using broken chords, arpeggios, or block chords. You could also take the melody's chord progression and make up your own counter melody to it.  Bridge a gap between two repetitions that are in different octaves. For example, if the melody repeats in a higher octave, you might want to create a transition that would bridge the gap from the lower octave melody to the higher octave, such as a series of upward arpeggios or a repeat of the last few measures in a higher octave.

5. Play the melody in the left hand while adding a simple accompaniment in the right hand.  Also try playing the lower octave melody twice as slow or a simpler version of it.

6. Modulate to a new key. This can get tricky on a lever harp but it can be done if you set up a way to change levers. For example, take time at a fermata to change the levers or create a chord progression that allows you to change the levers more gradually.

7. Experiment with different meters. You would be surprised with how different a song can sound when played in a different meter. Play around with changing a 3/4 song to 4/4 time or a 4/4 time to 6/8. You might even have fun with more unusual meters such as 5/4. 

8. Play the melody with different accompaniment styles or patterns.  Change block chords to broken chords or try triplets in either hand. As you get better on your instrument, you'll have more patterns and styles to choose from. Look through your sheet music library and get ideas from other composers/arrangers.

9. Play the melody with different techniques. For the harp, playing a simple melody in harmonics is lovely. Playing close to the sound board can make a section sound like a guitar. Some wind instruments can add mutes giving a far away sound. All instruments have their own set of special effects in their arsenal that they can use to give variety to a song.

10. If playing with another instrument, lots of variations can take place. Take turns carrying the melody or leave out one instrument the first time through. The two instruments can play in a different octave if they both play the melody. However, it's also very powerful if both instruments play in unison.  If you know the chords, you can make up a harmony part to the melody. Often this involves thirds or sixths above or below the melody but checking the chord will let you know if you need to alter it.

Above all, enjoy this process. It's a time to be creative and a time to make your music stand out from the crowd. Be brave and keep trying new things. Your audience will enjoy your performances more because they will be receiving an experience uniquely created by you.