Basic Composition #1: Accompaniment

I was reading through the chapter on Accompaniment in “Fundamentals of Musical Composition” by Arnold Schoenberg. I thought I’d make some notes here and write a few different accompaniments to learn by doing.

Accompaniment should:

  • be as functional as possible.
  • compliment the essentials of the tune:
    • tonality
    • phrasing
    • contour
    • character
    • mood
  • reveal harmony.

Accompaniment is especially needed if there is complex harmony or rhythm.

Sometimes the accompaniment is ommissable, but this should be confined to “self explanatory” segments.

Characteristics of the Accompaniment

The accompaniment must have a motive. This motive is less complex that the motive of the melody. The rhythm of the accompaniment is relatively simple with more repetition.

The accompaniment should be adaptable to the current harmony.

Need to be able to vary the accompaniment by modification, liquidation, and abandonment.

The Bass should participate in every change in harmony.

If there are no parrallel octaves in voice leading, then voices can be doubled in octaves

Types of Accompaniment


  • Same rhythm different notes (TBD: type of early music this was common in)


  • broken chords, piano style
  • Repeated and adapted figure in the accompaniment


  • harmony appears (changes) once is a bar or several bars
  • sustained notes
  • short chords at the beginning of a bar
  • chords on sustained notes of the melody


  • fills out gaps in the movement of other voices

Contrapuntal treatment

  • fugues, fugatos
  • invertable counterpoint

Semi and Quasi-contrapuntal treatment

  • The accompanying voices are a little more elaborate, but not as formalised as fugues etc.

Here is a little melody I wrote to experiment with different types of accompaniment.

Coral-like accompaniment is where the accompaniment has the same rhythm as the melody, but uses different notes. It works pretty well for this tune.

Figuration is a classic style used on a piano (e.g. The alberti bass)
It pretty much means that a single figure is used and repeated and slightly adapted to the melody.

Maybe a little like this? My figuration accompaniment was occasionally in the Complementary category too.

Sustained Chords

I took a couple of these to band rehearsal to try them out and found that a combination will be better, and I added some percussion:


Fugues, and canons are a whole area of study in themselves. And what small experience I’ve had with writing cannons means that the melody and accompaniment are both composed together.

That’ll do for now…