Many years ago I was at a dance in a New Hampshire town hall, at which Bob McQuillen was playing piano. During the break several of us started playing some tunes, and the Crooked Stovepipe came up. I was playing piano, using the chords I've always heard for it: in the B part,
GGGG CCAA for the first four measures. Bob came up to me afterwards and was telling me that when he first learned, the normal way of playing the tune was
GGGG CCCC - no A chord. Many things like that have changed.
Many of the old-time piano players played mostly I and V chords, with just an occasional IV chord. Below I have music for the Glise de Sherbrooke, a tune popular in Québec and in New England. The first one is from Ralph Page's New Hampshire Orchestra, recorded in 1951. As you can see, the accompaniment is all I and V chords.
If you click on each tune it should play for you so you can hear the impact that the chords have on the sound of the tune.
Important Note: The tune will start playing from where you click. Click outside the tune to stop playback.
The music of the Ralph Page Orchestra was very lively and danceable; but there's no doubt that the chord choices were much simpler than what's often played today. It must be said that the harmonies on this tune are particularly nice.
The second example is the same tune as played by Joseph Allard from Québec in 1945. Because of the influence of the jazz music scene in Montréal the accompaniments in Québec tend to use more varied chords. Notice the presence of several C chords in the Joseph Allard recording.
The Joseph Allard recording not only has more sophisticated chords, but it has very interesting bass lines too; and it wouldn't surprise me if the chords were more complex than what I have listed.
The next example looks at three ways of accompanying Flowers of Edinburgh. It starts with the chord progression described by Paul Gifford (previous page) sometimes called the Michigan or Missouri Progression that is still used by some people to accompany most tunes.
Be sure to click on each tune to listen to how the chord progressions affect the feel of the tune so dramatically.
This progression fits some tunes better than others. I deliberately chose Flowers of Edinburgh because it fits the A part pretty well, but really doesn't fit the B part. I've used it at times when faced with an unfamiliar tune. It at least gets me started!
Next is a fairly standard New England accompaniment for the tune. Notice that in addition to the usual I, IV and V chords it's got a minor VI chord. Looking at other sheet music for this tune there's quite a bit of variability in terms of where the C and Em chords are played, and whether to include a G chord in the seventh measure of each part or to go directly to the D chord.
I think you would likely agree that this fits better than the first set of chords.
The third is how Otto Soper used to accompany it. Otto was an old-time piano player from mid-Coast Maine who played for dances for many years. He was a big influence on Doug Protsik who plays with Old Grey Goose, and who is one of my biggest influences. Otto virtually never played minor chords. But his accompaniment for this one is quite interesting, and is the one that I use. You may find it odd sounding at first, but once you get used to the surprising major chords it's a lot of fun; to me anything else just doesn't sound right any more.
Next Page: A Chord Development Example. We look at an example of how a set of chords was developed, starting with a decent set of chords and over several stages developing it into something much better.