I was brought up on an eclectic mix of musical genres and have been influenced by everything from Jazz, Pop, Fusion and Folk, to Classical, Latin & African music. I studied classical piano and percussion, played in orchestras, sung in choirs, and played drums in a college cover band before helping to form Level 42 in 1980. Thirty-two years later we are still going strong. Here are some of the things I have learned along the way about creating killer keyboard parts that I hope will help you do the same.
1. Every Song Is Its Own Journey
Always approach each individual tune as a unique chance to create something new. Listen tohow the music and lyrics make you feel and play accordingly, instead of just saying to yourself, “Ah, this song is in “x” category, so I need my “x” chops or sounds.”
2. Be Open Minded
When playing in a group situation, other musicians may ask you to emulate an instrument or style that may be completely different than what you personally hear. Go along with it! Many of the keyboard parts that [Level 42 keyboard player/co-producer] Wally Badarou and I came up with started from ideas that at first seemed unusual and weird. I learned from Wally that a good idea can become great if it’s given time to develop.
3. When Recording, Less Is More
If your rhythm section is cooking and filling up frequency space, what often works best when recording keyboards is a melodic or rhythmic motif with space between the phrases. Countermelodiesare great as well. There will always be an opportunity to show off your chops in a live situation. Remember that as the keyboardist you are the orchestra, the brass section, and more. Take time to look for sounds will liftthe track and impart intriguing, infectious colors to it.
4. Create A Keyboard Conversation
Don’t just stick around the middle of the keyboard! Be flexible. Use both hands, or try just the left hand sometimes. Create a dialogue between two different sounding keyboards, (like Rhodes & synth). When I’m in the studio, I like to have more than one keyboard “record-ready” for this very purpose. You can always develop an idea afterwards.
5. Enjoy Yourself
Have fun and allow your personality to express itself. If you feel that you’re playing the “right” thing, but it’s boring, stop and try something else. If you enjoy what you’re creating, then others listening to you will be drawn in as well.
Mike Lindup co-founded the acclaimed band Level 42 in 1980 with Mark King and brothers Phil and Boon Gould. After 14 albums and overall sales of 30 million units worldwide, this year the band celebrates the 25th anniversary of their Running In The Family album with a special edition box set and tour. Mike is also busy supporting his solo EP On The One. Find out more at www.mikelindup.com and www.twitter.com/mikelindup