Synth Sense - Hot Synth Licks for Non-Synth Players

January 22, 2010

 0210 Play It Synth Sense Matt Beck Picby Matt Beck

Matt Beck, known for his burning keyboard and guitar work with pop icons Rod Stewart and Rob Thomas, just released his latest solo CD, Anything Which Gives You Pleasure. Learn more at






Maybe you’re a vintage-minded keyboardist, camped-out behind a Hammond organ and funky EP, looking to update your sound. Maybe you’re a jazzer with a secret jones for prog rock. No matter what genre of music you play, there’s always room for a sonic supplement. That’s what synthesizers are really good at — and what our new column Synth Sense is all about. Click the sheet music thumbnails for super-sized versions so you can play 'em!

0210 PLay It Synth Sense AtariAtari Nostalgia - Click for Audio

Being a child of the ’80s, a lot of the first synth sounds I recall were from grainy, 8-bit video game music. For this example, I used the default program on Vacuum (a virtual analog soft synth included with Pro Tools 8, reviewed Oct. ’09). The alternating of the whole-step interval with a fifth makes it sound a lot harder than it really is. Keep the notes even and play it fast! I’ll sometimes break this line out if things are sounding too safe, or I’m looking for something kind of jarring and from left field.


0210 Play It Synth Sense ELPEmulating ELP? - Click for Audio

In my teens, I really got into Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. I loved Keith Emerson’s soaring and fluid lines. This descending arpeggio, alternating between D and A sus chords, reminds me of something Keith might play. I dialed up a Vacuum patch called “Lucky Man” to get a sound close to Keith’s — you could crank up portamento to get closer still. The line is a bunch of quintuplets, which gives a “five-against-four” feel.


0210 Play It Synth Sense HammerJan Hammer Time? - Click for Audio

Fast forward a few years: I’m discovering jazz, but what I really relate to is fusion because it still retains a rock aesthetic. At the time, I got familiar with Jan Hammer who played all these great, guitar-like lines with Jeff Beck. Here’s a line similar to what Jan might’ve played back then. The trick with this one is to use pitchbend to play the second and third notes of each grouping. Anywhere you see three notes with a slur mark over them, you strike the first note, bend down for the second, and release the bend for the third.


0210 PLay It Synth Sense TotoNo Place Like Home - Click for Audio

In the early ’90s, I heard Toto’s “Pamela,” which inspired this example. In the middle, a synth line exploded over the A minor funk groove, so tasty and fluid that I had to learn it. Try to hear the notes in the main measure as happening in groups of five — that’s what gives the line its cool wandering feel. To layer like Toto’s David Paich, I dialed up Pro Tools’ Xpand and layered a brass/woodwinds sound with a blended brass/flute, plus a Rhodes-style EP for attack. Good fingering was crucial to playing this one cleanly; what I figured out is notated on the example.

Keep up-to-date on the latest news
Get our Free Newsletter Here!

You Might Also Like...

No Records Found.
Show Comments

These are my comments.

Reader Poll

What best describes your dream job?

See results without voting »