The Art of Synth Soloing: More Time with Tony Banks

January 11, 2017

Continuing to explore Tony Banks’ most memorable synth parts, I uncovered an actual synth solo!

Going Solo

Ex. 1. Perhaps the only true synth solo Tony Banks played; from his 1979 solo album A Curious Feeling, on the tune “You.”
After releasing And Then There Were Three in 1978, Genesis took a small hiatus and Tony Banks recorded his first solo album, A Curious Feeling, released in 1979. It is on this wonderful release that I found what is perhaps his only “true” synth solo, on a song called “You.” Using a powerful sawtooth lead sound with portamento, Tony comes ripping in midway through the song with an almost Wakeman-esque solo (see Ex. 1).

Starting out with some pentatonic and chromatic moves, by bar 3 he is back to chordal arpeggiations, which are part of his signature style. What makes them interesting is how they are not based on the current chord, but are other triadic choices that fit the harmony nicely, using an A major triad over the E minor chord, and then a B major triad to emphasize the minor/major seventh sound. For the C#min7 chord starting on bar 5 he outlines an E major triad, a B major triad and then an F# major triad, all while the band stays on the one chord. In bar 7 he starts developing nice three-note groupings, which he will return to in bars 14-17.

Tony moves into some majestic quarter-note triplets starting at bar 9, and this feels like composition to me, with the chords moving in perfect support to his note choices. After the returning three-note groupings I mentioned earlier, he ascends through bars 18-19 nicely. I especially like the three-octave bravura run he does across bars 21 and 22, using what seems like an E harmonic minor scale with an added D natural note, played over the B7/ b9. Starting on the F# sounds more colorful and climbs perfectly into the next melody section. (The entire transcription can be found online at keyboardmag.) This is a classic Banks solo, worthy of your study.

Back to Genesis

Our second piece comes from the next Genesis album to be released, Duke, which came out in 1980 and became their biggest selling title to date. Mixed in with their growing pop direction was the instrumental tour-de-force “Duke’s Travels” and “Duke’s End.” I can’t call the example a solo, but it is masterful Banks writing and playing.

Ex. 2. The main melodic section of “Duke’s Travels,” the closing cut from 1980’s Duke album. Classic Banks melodic figures based on simple arpeggios.
After a broad rubato exposition, Phil’s powerful drums come in, setting up a tribal triplet groove. The band starts a minor figure and then our synth part starts (Ex. 2). Moving into a major key at bar 3, the arpeggiations are signature Banks. They develop for a while and then the band switches up the rhythm/meter and the tune moves back to the minor groove. While all of Tony’s notes come from the Dorian mode, it is very colorful, melodic, and almost jazzy.

Note that I chose to write the example in 4/4 to make it easier to read, but the main pulse comes from the half-note, not the quarter. This same pulse then becomes the dotted-quarter for the 6/8 section. Practice clapping and counting it this way and you’ll easily get the feel of each section and how to transition between them.

Ex. 3. A later section of “Duke’s Travels,” which moves into a sort of jig/dance mood. Fast scale runs and small arpeggiations abound.
This month’s final example comes later in the song, and sounds a bit like a 6/8 jig. Example 3 shows the supporting riff and then the solo/melodic lines. Fast scale runs mix with small arpeggiations as Banks rips through the section; basically a I chord (C major) going to the V chord (G7) later and then back to the I. These parts may seem simple, but they take skill to play evenly and up to speed. The full song sections are posted online.

Moving On

Genesis created plenty of great music since this album and had huge hits. Tony’s rig expanded, and he explored lots of cool samples and new timbres, but the solos mostly fell by the wayside. (The ones I did find were too simple to need me to cover.) I hold Mr. Banks in the highest regard, as he is one of prog rock’s greatest composers, arrangers, and players. Here’s hoping for some new music from him soon.

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