5 Ways To Play Like Benmont Tench

April 25, 2014
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In the lexicon of rock keyboardists, one doesn’t go far before coming across the one and only Benmont Tench. Known primarily as the ever-so-tasty keyboardist for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Benmont is a consummate song player. Every note he plays is for the betterment of the song. He can often be found playing an affecting Hammond B-3 organ solo, or finding a keyboard part that blends so perfectly in a song that it would literally cease to be the same song without it. There is no way that anyone could distill Benmont’s taste, feel, sounds and parts into only five elements, but we’ll give it our best shot!


1. Blending Tones

 

Finding the right part is always important, but picking what sounds you use can be just as vital. Some big staples of Benmont’s sound are the Hammond B-3 organ, acoustic piano, and Wurlitzer electric piano. Benmont even finds ways to blend these sounds into a unique combination of their own. Ex. 1 demonstrates this, starting with piano only and then adding in an unforgettable B-3 riff that announces the song in the best way possible. Benmont played a part similar to this on the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song “Don’t Do Me Like That.”


2. Breaking Stylistic Boundaries

 

Just because a song has a defined musical style doesn’t mean you can’t infuse different sections with other alluring sounds. Take Ex. 2, a honly-tonk piano part dropped smack into the bridge of an otherwise driving rock tune. That’s the genius of Benmont Tench—he’s always crafting parts that serve the music and make it soar. This example is in the style of a part Benmont played with the Heartbreakers on the classic song “American Girl.”


3. T Is for Taste

 

How do you define taste? The answer is, you just know it when you hear it. Benmont is revered among fellow musicians for his ability to make the music shine without ever “showboating.” Ex. 3 illustrates a typical Benmont piano part in the chorus of a song. Notice how he delineates the chord changes by creating an infectious piano melody out of them in octaves. Listen to his playing on the Tom Petty tune “Here Comes My Girl” for further examples of his sympathetic sonics.


4. Unexpected Instruments

 

Benmont is always open to finding unexpected sound sources to lift a song higher. While primarily known as a master of acoustic and electromechanical instruments like piano, electric piano, and Hammond organ, Benmont often works wonders on synths as well, even though they might seem unlikely in a rock context such as the Heartbreakers. Ex. 4 shows how he might weave his magic on an analog synth patch.


5. Benmont = B-3

 

When it comes to rock organ, you can’t do better than Benmont Tench. He has such control of all the nuances of the instrument, making constant adjustments to the drawbars, and enhancing phrasing via the speed of the Leslie speaker. This is illustrated in Ex. 5, where he builds a hooky solo out of a song’s chord progression, referencing its melody along the way. He does this often on his new solo release You Should Be So Lucky.

 
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