If you’re a gigging keyboardist, you’ve undoubtedly been
asked to cover multiple parts at once. Often times, this involves
playing parts with one hand so that your other hand is free to play
other keyboards or zones on the same keyboard. This can be a challenge,
as you need to make all the parts sound full while at the same time
keeping them lean. Here are my five favorite ways to multitask on stage.
1. Thumb Fun
Sometimes you have to comp chords with one hand because
your other hand is needed on another synth or keyboard. The challenge
here is to make chords sound beefy enough with just one hand. Ex. 1
illustrates a great way to accomplish this, taking a cue from what many
Gospel piano players do when comping: They grab an extra note with
their thumb so that two notes can be played at the same time with it.
Try this on a variety of different chord qualities, and you’ll be amazed
how much sound one thumb can provide.
2. Leave Out the Third
Especially on organ, fewer notes notes can often sound
fuller in a band context. This can be a lifesaver when you need a free
hand or finger to play another note or sound elsewhere. Ex. 2
demonstrates a simple chord progression where I leave out the third of
different chords but I am still able to convey musical heft and power.
3. Go Southpaw
Problem: You have a two-handed comping part and then
you’re asked to cover a string line at the same time. Solution:
Approximate the motion of said two-handed comping part with just one hand so that you can grab the string part with your other hand. Ex. 3 illustrates how this can work.
4. Contrary and Oblique Motion
A clever way to give the illusion that there is more
happening than what you are actually playing is to use the techniques of
contrary and oblique motion, seen in Ex. 4. Contrary
motion is when two notes in a phrase go in opposite directions. Oblique
motion is when one note stays the same and the other is moving. These
techniques make the listener feel like there are many parts happening at
Make Technology Your Friend
Sometimes the best way to multitask is to exploit
capabilities of your synth that you may be underusing. On pretty much
every modern workstation, you can split sounds across your keyboard,
layer programs so that different velocities actually trigger different
instrument sounds, trigger phrase samples from a single key or drum pad,
and in some cases, even trigger such samples using a foot switch. These
techniques free up your hands to do even more at once.