Weekend Chops Builder: Pop Organ Workshop by Bill Irwin - Runs

March 18, 2016


Continuing our celebration of 40 years of Keyboard, we'll present some of our old -- but still very relevant -- lessons for our Weekend Chops Builder exercises. Enjoy.


In this session, you're going to get "a run for your money"—in fact, a lot of runs—so let's not clutter up the space with too many words. Since this is just a collection of runs and not a treatise on the use and abuse of runs, you'll have to listen to others use runs and notice the how, why, and where, be discriminating, and develop a sense of taste in adding runs to your performances.

A straight chromatic run is boring and a low form of endeavor. If you've been looking for some form of chromatic-type run which is usable with any chords, try the following semi-chromatic run:

The 2nd finger plays every black key, 1st finger plays the white key to the left. Same form and fingering can be used for an ascending run, but it doesn't flow as freely. It should be practiced with a variety of note values (dotted eighths, triplets, sixteenths, etc.) and used to fill, connect notes, and create a rhythmic improvisation line, and so on. For example, to rapidly move an octave downward to a specific note, start a minor ninth (octave and a half-step) above the ending note, and play the run using eighth-note triplets:

A more complicated run based on portions of the chromatic scale (and usable with ail chords) again contains every black key, but this time the white keys on both sides of each black key are played:

This run should be played rapidly, and can be played ascending as easily as descending. For a multi-note cascading effect, play this run with the right hand and a straight chromatic run with the left hand on the same manual, keeping the left hand approximately a third below the right. The use of moving 9th chords (see my December '76 column) played chromatically either up or down provides an exceptionally complementary accompaniment to this run.

The Vibe settings on modern organs are very authentic-sounding, and their use in cool jazz is extremely effective. When you're going to play a lot of notes, use either a short sustain or no sustain at all to avoid blurring the notes. Try the following "percussion-type" runs with the Vibe or Piano setting on the organ:

Specific runs should be transposed to all keys (or at least to the big five—C, F, G, Bb, Eb). The above run can be used with 13th as well as with major 6th chords. If you use moving 9th chords in the left hand, you'll create a 13th-chord run. Here is the same run slightly modified in sixteenth-notes, played as an ending.

Using the original triplets, the ending is easier, like this:

Note: All major 6th chords contain the same notes as the minor 7th chord whose root is the 6th step of the original scale, a minor third below the original root. For example, F6=Dm7. D is the 6th step of the F scale. Only the bass note is changed. Therefore, each major 6th run can also be used for the related minor 7th chord.

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To Evelyn S. (Chicago, IL) and Vincent R. (Paramount, CA): Try substituting the 9th chord with a root a fifth below for the minor chord. When a common minor chord is indicated (be sure there are no altered steps in the melody), add the 6th step and substitute the root that is a fifth lower, creating a 9th chord on the new root. For example, to Cm add 6th step A, making it Cm6, change C pedal to F, and the chord becomes F9. The use of the moving 9th position will accommodate several non-chord tones that may be present in the melody.

* * * *

The following run can be used both for minor 6th chords and for their associated 9th chords:

Here is the same run played with eighth-note triplets:

There are many more opportunities to use minor 6th runs than to use major 6th runs, so I suggest you determine the steps used in the run and practice it against every 9th and minor 6th chord around the circle of fifths, using the same fingering.

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