5 Ways to Play Like Monk.....On Organ!

October 6, 2017

Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917–1982) was a jazz pianist known for his unique improvisations and compelling compositions, both of which used dissonance and angular rhythms as the cornerstones of their sound. Let's take some of Monk's more recognizable ideas and move them over to the Hammond B3 organ.

1. Seconds

Larry Young is probably the organist most associated with playing the compositions of Thelonious Monk. Ex. 1  is influenced by Young's playing on the classic cut "Monk's Dream" from the album Unity. Monk would often use the interval of a second played in angular rhythms in his improvisations. For this example, set your lower manual drawbars to 808000000, Leslie to "brake" and pedals (if you have them) to 70. Tap in short stabs on the B pedal in the middle of the pedal manual without the note's pitch sounding in time with the bass notes. When you get confident, Try walking a few bass lines. Use your toe and heel for fluid pedal stomping. The lines in the right hand have second voicings in the higher register that contain interesting chord tones of the harmony they are functioning over. In the first bar, we have the 3rd and 9th scale degrees represented. In bar 2 we get a #11 extension with a dominant 7 played by the thumb. The #11 idea carries over to bar 3 in descending seconds. Bar 4 uses notes from the whole tone scale (G, A, B, C#, D#, F, G). For your upper manual drawbar setting, use 888000000 with all tabs up, percussion on soft, fast and third. We'll use the C1 vibrato setting, which is the one Larry Young used.

2. Whole Tones

Ex. 2 further investigates the whole tone scale, this time in single lines. We'll keep the same drawbar settings from the last example. The bass line outlines important notes the C Mixolydian scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C). Continue tapping on the pedals like before. In the right hand, Bars 1 and 2 show the scale in thirds switching to a triplet rhythm at the end of bar 2. Bar 3 uses arpeggios of augmented triads moving up the scale. Bar 4 has a very fast descending run much in the style of Monk.

3. Stab It!



Monk's quirky repetitive stabs are the subject of Ex. 3. In the first two bars, we use #9 shapes coming from the diminished scale (F, Gb, Ab, A, B, C, D, Eb, F). By moving these shapes in minor thirds, we create symmetrical magic. The last two chords of Bar 2 come from the F Mixolydian scale (F, G, A, Bb. C, D, Eb, F) voiced in fourths. In Bar 3, we set up a riff embellishing the 7th and 3rd from a half step below. In between this motif we employ triplet based line coming from the D blues scale, ( D, F, G, Ab, A, C, D) the relative minor of F. In the last bar, we leave a little space and play the half step riff again. Try this drawbar setting in the right hand: 848400008 with Leslie set to fast and C3 vibrato. Percussion is OFF.


4. Descending Pentatonics

This idea comes from stride pianists of the 1930s. Monk had his own particular take on this theme. Ex. 4 begins with the left hand and pedal bass part playing "I Got Rhythm" chord changes bass line in Bb. The pedal tapping continues as described previously. In the right hand, we have a G minor pentatonic scale (G, Bb, C, D, F, G) which sounds great over the relative major key of Bb, ending on a trill with the 5th and 6th scale degrees. In Bars 3 and 4 we have a slightly more advanced presentation using a C minor pentatonic scale (C, Eb, F, G, Bb, C). If we use interval skips of fourths, the scale starts to sound like the modern pentatonics of Larry Young. Use this right hand registration: 888800080 with Percussion on second and normal volume and a slow deca. This gives a classic Melvin Rhyne organ sound.

5. Half Steps Up and Down

Ex. 5 borrows a harmonic technique from the classic Monk tune "Well You Needn't." The bass goes up a half step, returns to F, then goes down a step to Eb.Here we use an arpeggiated fourth shape with triplets that moves up and down to create interesting 13th and 9th extensions on the chords. On every other bar, the line ends in a second dissonance like we discussed in Ex. 1. All of the lines from the right hand come from the corresponding Mixolydian mode (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7, 1). Our drawbars for this example have all the black drawbars out (880088080), Percussion off, and C3 vibrato


For more about organist Brian Charette visit www.briancharette.com

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