As a working keyboardist, sooner or later you’ll be called to strut your stuff on the mighty Hammond B-3. Blues, R&B, and rock are where much of the Hammond organ’s history began, so here’s a quick B-3 primer on getting your drawbars, Leslie (or rotary simulation), and expression pedal into high gear.
1. Spin Class
One note can go a long way on an organ, but you have to make it fit. In Ex. 1, we play a note starting with the expression pedal at minimum, then increase the pedal slowly. Use your ear to judge how the sound mixes with the other instruments in your band or track. In this example, we’re setting up movement to the IV chord, so as your single note starts to build, pop your Leslie or rotary switch to fast, and depress the pedal. The spin of the Leslie adds volume and intensity to the crescendo. When you hit the IV, use a simple voicing and slide off with a quick glissando. This is an effective way to add musical drama without overplaying.
2. Peppered Pads
Ex. 2 is all about laying down pads with motion and dynamics, while also staying out of the way. This works well on country or rock ballads. Hold down a note with your fifth finger and play a simple figure under it, alternating between the second and third scale degrees. This technique can often be more effective than playing all three chord notes together, as it imparts clarity. Remember to vary the dynamics using the expression pedal, and be sure to play legato. Next, try holding two chord notes—start a crescendo and flip the Leslie to fast, then immediately flip it back to slow. Now, back off the pedal as the speaker slows down. This will make the sustained pads sparkle and the chord overtones pop.
3. High Octave Octane
The high octave on a Hammond really cuts through a mix, especially when the Leslie is spinning fast. Use this move for funky riffs and rhythmic figures. In Ex. 3, we have a two-bar build into a funky E7 groove. Play the A7 chord (here with no third), and pull the expression pedal back suddenly for a sforzando effect. Then, speed up the Leslie and swell up to full volume. Next, play the groovy E7 riff, accentuating the articulation as long-short (or doo-dat). Remember—an organ isn’t velocity-sensitive, so you need to telegraph your articulation. Finally, slow down the Leslie and play a blues riff over the E7 chord.
Scott Healy is known for his on-air keyboard work with Conan O’Brien. Find out more at bluedogmusic.com.