Creative Concepts for Funky Keys
By NEAL EVANS
Thu, 4 Oct 2012
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 Soulive, left to right: Alan Evans, Eric Krasno, and Neal Evans
Soulive, left to right: Alan Evans, Eric Krasno, and Neal Evans.

by NEAL EVANS

I GOT MY FIRST ORGAN WHEN I WAS 19, PRIMARILY BECAUSE IT WAS AN INSTRUMENT OF CONVENIENCE—if you can call a 400-pound instrument convenient! The organ let me play bass, chords, and lead lines on one uniquely dynamic axe. I consider myself a keyboardist first—it just so happens that organ is what I’ve played publicly for many years. By absorbing many different styles of music, I’m able to express the feeling of them with my own vocabulary. Here are some examples to help unlock your own creativity.

 

1. Bass Over Bar Lines

Ex. 1 is something I like to do when trying to find ways to creatively expand a great bass line. In this example, I try to stretch the keyboard bass line over the bar, creating subtle variations while still keeping it tight and consistent.

2. Chromatic Bass Lines

As a keyboard bass player, my left hand bass method allows me to use a chromatic approach to creating bass lines. Ex. 2 demonstrates this technique. Notice the slight rhythmic variations.

3. Bass Line Leaps and Slides

Ex. 3 illustrates two challenges of adapting bass lines to the keyboard. The first is the opposite of playing chromatic bass lines. Here we see the classic leap of over an octave to reach the major third and finally the dominant seventh, which is fairly easy on bass guitar but requires more athleticism and precision on keyboard. The second half of this example incorporates a slide technique I’ve developed over the years. It uses the outer and bottom inside of my left palm while playing bass with my left hand. In this example, the bass line is only being played with fingers 5-2-1-2-1. Once the slide begins, it is played as 5-slide-2-1-2-1.

4. Clavinet Comps

What a great instrument the Hohner Clavinet is! But often, I fi nd that players don’t create distinct parts on it and simply noodle around aimlessly. One thing I always try to pay attention to on Clav is the creation of distinct rhythmic and melodic comping parts, as in Ex. 4.

 

5. Moving Piano Parts

When accompanying on piano, I always like to think about ways to build energy (when appropriate) through tone and voice placement on the keyboard. In Ex. 5, I start in a lower register of the piano, using a slight pedal variation in my left hand. I then move up the keyboard one octave in both hands, finally jumping between the lower and middle registers.

 

Neal’s Practice Tip

“If my playing is considered ‘funky,’ it’s most likely because I’ve never limited my musical scope, drawing ideas from as many great sources as I’ve been able to encounter along the way,” says Neal Evans. A founding member of Soulive, Evans and company have opened for the Rolling Stones, been joined onstage by Stevie Wonder, and recorded with Chaka Khan, Talib Kweli, and John Scofield. In 2012, Evans appears on new recordings by Soulive (Spark), the seven-piece funk band Lettuce (Fly), and his own solo effort (Bang). Find out more at soulive.com and nealevans.com.

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