Music Theory
Acoustic Composition
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Moving Beyond “Stock” Patterns

A “stock” pattern refers to anything that could easily be transplanted between pieces. How do we make the transition from simply filling in space with extra notes to creating meaningful accompaniment that enhances the melody? Let’s look at some techniques used by composers over the last few centuries:

Text Painting

Text painting is a technique that was favored by romantic era composers (mid 19th century). The technique is characterized by referring to the lyrics of the song for inspiration in the musical accompaniment. If the song talks about a heart beat and you hear a steady “bum-bum” in parts of the song then there’s a good chance you’re listening to text painting. Here are some examples of text painting in popular music.


A lesson many musicians learn early is that when material repeats in a piece it is the job of the musician to make it sound different. For the performer, that can mean changing the dynamic, articulations, phrasing, or the tempo. For the arranger/composer, in addition to the aforementioned adjustments, variety can mean changing between stock patterns when the melody repeats, dropping or adding accompaniment, or changing the texture.

Melody First Accompaniment

When the melody is prioritized first the accompaniment is written to serve the melody. This means looking closely at the melody and emphasizing it’s quirks. Many times this can be done by emphasizing opposites:

  • The accompaniment descends when the melody ascends
  • The accompaniment plays more notes when the melody plays less
  • The accompaniment plays less notes when the melody plays more
  • The accompaniment plays simple rhythms when the melody plays complex rhythms

These are just a few ideas to help you see how to have the accompaniment respond to a melody.