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Keyboard/Synthesizer Techniques

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  • Keyboard/Synthesizer Techniques

    I have been playing keyboard/synthesizer with our praise band for about 8 months... so I'm a total newbie seeking to improve. I'm looking for ideas and suggestions for resources to learn new techniques to use. I have been using mostly polyphonic synthesizer pads and B3 organ sounds playing chords. A few months ago I learned to use chord inversions which greatly improved my abilities. I also know to play a percentage of the music based on the number of instruments in the praise band. I've watched and learned much from youtube instructional videos like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gU7Se...eature=mh_lolz. What are some other techniques could I use?

    thank you,

    Steven

  • #2
    Welcome!

    This might seem like a bonk in the head...but "listen".

    I place monstrously high value on good keyboard players because they know how to listen to the music around them and respond/play very intelligently. It goes for any live musician in a group, but a good solid keyboard player who knows how to interpret the music being played and then apply themselves to it well is worth his/her weight in unobtanium-infused platinum. They can make a lively song go supernatural faster than any singer or guitar player I've heard.

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    • #3
      Thank you. I am blessed to work with professional musicians who are willing to teach. They have said this many times, and I have applied it. I do listen and strive to follow the rhythm section. I consider what sounds/notes would enhance the song. I don't play every chord/note, I don't play every chorus, verse or turnaround, and I when using organ sounds I usually change octaves for emphasis on the chorus. I listen for open areas in the audio spectrum to fill in (sometimes playing up 2 octaves up or down) so the sounds don't compete or clash with the other instruments. Soon after I started practicing (which I typically practice at least 1 to 2 hours per day with demo tracks of the songs being used the following Sunday) I began hearing sounds in the songs that I hadn't noticed before...Sounds that would be noticed if they were missing, but not so much that they are present. I know that less is often more and sometimes what you don't play is just as important as what you do.

      I think the next step (for me) is to learn improvisational techniques. Now I play mostly chord inversions (trying to keep at least one note the same between chord changes.) I've watched many videos that demonstrate B3 playing techniques and I think I have a good understanding how to apply things like glissandos, playing up high, not all of the notes of the chord, etc. It appears the rule for playing pad sounds is keeping the sound going. Now I'm ready to learn methods for playing strings and synth sounds...

      For example, what are the methods used for strings? From listening to modern pop music, it seems that the strings sounds are played an octave or 2 up and that they use 1, maybe 2 notes at a time that match the chord changes and complement the song. While they match the chord changes, it sounds like they are not playing just the root notes and do vary in how many chord changes they use. I haven't found resources that demonstrate or teach how to ad lib.

      When I first started learning how to play, I attended praise band sessions at a music conference. There was so much to absorb. I couldn't read music at that time. One thing I noticed is that the instructor could play a song using the chords and somehow he would take the song to the next level by "changing up" the quantity of notes. I have heard others play similarly. What method are they using to bring out this sound? (I don't think they are adding notes to the chords...maybe they are adding more "transitional notes" between the chords?)

      thanks for your response!

      -Steven

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      • #4
        There is more to it than chords- chords and scales go together. There are other notes in a key outside of the basic 3-4 noes you'd typically use in a chord. That's where a lot of 'transitional' notes and other things come from.

        I do not have theory mastered, but even as a bass player I play notes from different parts of the scales for transitions or to add flavor. I get a lot of compliments on it.

        I haven't found resources that demonstrate or teach how to ad lib.
        You probably won't- it's different for everyone. It's more of an instinctive thing that most people couldn't teach even if they wanted to. your best bet would be to study great keyboard players and try to get inside their head, so to speak. But a lot of that starts by having a good working knowledge of chords and scales so when they hear something in their head, they know where to play it.

        Hope this helps
        If we want to go places we haven't been, we will have to do things we haven't done.

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        • #5
          playing synth strings

          I have read all of the posts on your question. Many great answers! One thing to consider is: how many other instruments in your band? How many of them play chords? I lead music with a music group that has bass, drums, 2 guitars and I have 2 keyboards and 1 sound module. When I play string sounds, I usually play up 1 or 2 octaves higher than the vocals and guitars. On the verses/prechorus i have found that playing melodically helps out alot by complementing what the vocals sing--but KEEP IT SIMPLE! On the chorus, I come in with playing chords--also up 1 or 2 octaves. I dont repeat everything that the vocalists sing. I also play piano sounds--i usually play the intro to the song and keep it simple. This is the key that I have found, especially when playing in a large band with multiple instruments that play chords.

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          • #6
            Thanks Mike. I'll continue analyzing music until I learn how to make it happen...

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            • #7
              Hi, Steven

              Glad to hear your really looking to invest in your skill and ability on the keyboards. I would affirm what has already been said that am skilled and competent keys person is a great asset. I would encourage you to check out some of the resources from Musicademy (www.musicademy.com). They have some great products designed for exactly what you are looking to do, including stuff on how to improve in the context of a band and how to play by ear on stuff. They also offer products that you can play along with to learn more about fitting into the pocket. I'm not affiliated with them, but a big fan of their stuff. They also offer some free basic resources that might help too.

              Bob Kauflin also offers some resources you may want to check out:
              http://www.sovereigngracestore.com/P...echniques.aspx
              http://www.sovereigngracestore.com/P...to_Charts.aspx
              http://www.worshipmatters.com/2011/1...orship-part-1/

              Hope that helps, and you continue to grow and enjoy what you're doing.

              Chris

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              • #8
                Chris,
                Thank you! John Payne's "Advanced Piano Technique" is exactly what I was looking for! Wonderful. I had considered buying the Musicademy materials before. Bob Kauflin's resources were also new to me. I'll definitely check those out as well. Awesome suggestions! Thank you so much!

                -Steven

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                • #9
                  I agree with all the above. The key to good synthesizer or keyboard playing is synthesizing the instrument in style as well as sound. Yes, string sounds are usually one or two notes up high and play chord tones with occasional passing tones.

                  Passing tones are an important part of getting this "flowing" sound. You can use the notes between chord tones to transition between chords or even between inversions of the same chord.

                  I don't know if you'd be interested but I do run a music school and specialize on contemporary keyboard techniques, especially in worship applications.


                  We could do some lessons online using video conferencing if you'd be interested.

                  Check out my site and let me know.

                  Jeff

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by StevenKelley
                    I'm looking for ideas and suggestions for resources to learn new techniques to use. <SNIP>
                    … what are the methods used for strings?

                    When I first started learning how to play, I attended praise band sessions at a music conference. There was so much to absorb. I couldn't read music at that time. One thing I noticed is that the instructor could play a song using the chords and somehow he would take the song to the next level by "changing up" the quantity of notes. I have heard others play similarly. What method are they using to bring out this sound? (I don't think they are adding notes to the chords...maybe they are adding more "transitional notes" between the chords?)
                    thanks for your response!
                    -Steven
                    Like many others suggested, music theory helps. Consider a part time college class in music theory on the side, or grab the same textbook and read maybe a chapter a week.

                    For strings, it depends. If you want to get good at them, and your church provides dedicated string reduction for you, learn to read the music. Following that should lead to some spectacular results. If not, learn to maybe partially or fully follow the melody line, so long as (depending on your music minister's style preference) you don't create too much motion.

                    As for the "changing the quantity of notes", it just depends. Sometimes more notes helps, sometimes not, so you’ll have to (almost literally) play it by ear.

                    But it also depends on the role strings and pads play in your church. I'm the aux synth guy, so while the piano play a huge role, even when I play strings (like this Sunday when the usual string keyboard person was out sick), they aren't strongly featured. The piano is the loudest instrument, and so pads and strings are given a secondary role, but they are present.

                    I would learn filter sweeps. Peter James of Hillsong does a good job (I think) of describing them. That is, if you have a true synthesizer. If this is a keyboard where you don't have low pass filter cutoff knobs and such, disregard. But this can be the difference (for a real synth) in pad versus lead: I can "pop out" in certain areas as a lead instrument if the music dictates by moving that knob, and then back out into pad mode again by moving the knob again.

                    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5z2Q3-pydA

                    Also, I would learn music theory with an eye for the more "sustaining" role of pad. For instance, on the song (Elevation I think) O Come To The Altar, you could literally sustain a G octave the whole song (because all the chords, in the key of G: G C Em C G Am7 Em C2) include G. If you wrap your mind around having a G in every chord and how to do that with your fingers to make G the highest note, you can make things sound a whole lot more "sustained" and "continuous."

                    (Example, C2: C D E G // Em(7): B (D) E G // Am7: A C E G // etc)

                    Another thing, I would suggest to know when to use the bass regions of pads or not. Most churches already have piano, one or two keyboard/synthesizer players, a bass player, maybe an electric guitar, etc. If you're playing left handed bass when the bass player and electric guitar player are really driving the bass regions hard, you might only be making the bass region more muddy with your pads (especially if they have reverb). For those times, I would focus on maybe two hands in the upper registers, or only one hand if you don't need that many notes. Sometimes less is more, sometimes not. I played an entire Sunday service (we have a bass and a piano) with the Roland System-1: two octaves, string preset, no bass, other keyboard player was out sick. But I go to a Baptist church, so ...

                    Finally, really listen hard to original recordings by the composer/artist on YouTube/iTunes to hear what the synth/keyboard is doing. Sometimes you actually want only a tiny whisp of high end "airy" pad (like What A Beautiful Name). Sometimes you want a ton of organ (like the first couple measures to O Worship The King, if your church doesn't cut that part out) while the electric guitar is doing something. It just depends. I prefer to try to emulate (though I don't get OCD about it) the original recording as much as is feasible because that's usually an expression of the composer's wishes. They craft the sonic space: for instance, if you go against their wishes and dump a ton of organ in places where there's none, it changes the song, and probably not for the better.

                    Note that in my use, synthesizer is something like the Roland System-1/8, etc, where you have lots of knobs, or software synthesizers where you have lots of ability to modify the sound. In my use, a keyboard has far fewer knobs (if any) and far less opportunity to modify the sound (usually sample-based or internally synthesized). Basically, synthesizers craft the sound, keyboards copy the sound. (Though this is not a scientific definition, and not a hard and fast rule. Every keyboard is a little different.)
                    Last edited by radelahunt; 08-13-2019, 11:51 AM.

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