What Does an Accompanist Do?

Accompanists—who typically play instruments like piano, organ, or guitar—are professional musicians who make a living by supporting, collaborating with, and sometimes also educating vocalists, choirs, dancers, theater performers, and other artists. Accompanists go by many different titles depending on the specifics of their profession or employment: church musicians and church music directors, for example, may accompany the church choir as pianists or organists; television show band members accompany guest performers and sketch segments; collaborative pianists perform with vocalists and soloists; and repetiteurs accompany and teach opera singers and dancers in a rehearsal environment.

Opportunities abound for accompanists, ranging from tiny theater troupes and local choirs to major ballet and opera companies.

The work of an accompanist is nuanced and demanding, requiring them to respond nimbly and sensitively to performance elements such as tempo, phrasing, and interpretation, often while collaborating with a singer for the first time and sometimes in high-pressure settings like competitions and auditions. In addition, many accompanists double as teachers or educators, and must be capable of teaching and monitoring a student's performance while playing. As part of their job, staff accompanists often perform administrative tasks such as compiling and organizing requests from students.

Accompanist at a Glance

Career Path

Professional musicians who accompany as part of their work are spread across a number of different industries. Those who specialize purely in accompanying others, however, are most common in the fields of music, dance, and theater education. Most accompanists begin as freelancers, finding work through personal connections, networking, and job postings. Once an accompanist has achieved a certain level of expertise and prominence, he or she might be eligible for full-time, salaried positions with an arts organization or university. An accompanist might go on to a career as a music teacher or music director. 

Finding Work

Opportunities abound for accompanists, ranging from tiny theater troupes and local choirs to major ballet and opera companies. Most are freelancers who work for a combination of regular and one-off clients, including choirs, K-12 schools, universities, conservatories, dance companies, and theater companies. In addition to assisting in public performance and rehearsal, they might also accompany students and musicians in auditions, juries, exams, and competitions. As for any independent contractor, networking is key to finding work.

Others, generally more seasoned or accomplished players, are hired as full-time staff by conservatories, arts companies, and universities.

Professional Skills
  • Sight-reading
  • Broad musical repertoire and knowledge
  • Collaboration (rehearsed and on-the-spot)
  • Great ears for musical nuance (tempo, phrasing, tone, etc.)
  • Teaching
  • Networking
  • Punctuality
Interpersonal Skills

Accompanists are highly skilled instrumentalists with a deep interest in collaboration and education. The job requires immense adaptability and comfort with the unpredictability of live performance. In addition, accompanists must possess the ability to work together with almost anyone, and to take direction quickly and quietly.

Work Life

Most accompanists work on a different schedule every week, although those with full-time positions at conservatories might have more consistency. Rehearsals and performances are often scheduled at night and on weekends.