Keyboard Multitasking Onstage

July 23, 2013
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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 once.
 

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.

 

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