There have been many times in studio sessions when an artist or producer has asked me to play a percussive part on the Hammond, using words like “choppy,” “bubbly,” or “staccato.” The best way for an organist to serve that kind of sound up is to understand what rhythms will work to complement the other parts and what part will support the vocal or lead melody line. Remember that it’s not only what you play but also where you put it that matters. Any percussive Hammond part that rushes the beat will be left on the cutting room floor. Lay your parts way back, especially the percussive ones. Here, I’ll illustrate how to lay a groovy part into a song without stepping on other parts.

(Scroll down for audio examples).

1. Silence Is Golden

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Ex. 1 illustrates how restsare a big part of percussive organ playing. Try using only the 8' flute drawbar and a left-hand bass. Make the hook small at the end of the phrase. This creates a ton of sonic room in the middle for other instruments to fill. Your guitarists will start carrying the Leslie cabinet for you if you try this on your next gig!

2. Loop It

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Ex. 2 is a “loop it and get lost in it” kind of exercise. There’s no harmonic percussion on this one, just a fast Leslie and a bright drawbar setting. Try to keep as many static notes as you can over the chord changes—and if reverb is part of your sound, this is a good time to crank it up.

3. Triplet Flashes

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Ex. 3 is a flashy triplet exercise you can throw into your solos for the wow factor. The key here is to play octaves with your right hand, followed by the third triplet note with your left hand. Start slow at first, and don’t worry about being too articulate. Sometimes only picking up the key click on random notes is hip.

4. Trills and Thrills

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I first saw the late, great Jimmy McGriff play this when I opened a show for him. The trick in Ex. 4 is to turn your arm sideways and play what would otherwise be a two-note trill on one note. The rapid-fire response of a Hammond organ (and some clones as well) will let you go as fast as you can. In this exercise, I start with triplets, and then move on to sixteenth-notes and sextuplets.

5. Percussive Bows

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Ex. 5 demonstrates how you can put a percussive “bow” on the end of your organ hooks. Once again, we’re using no harmonic percussion tabs here—just a bright drawbar setting and a fast Leslie. This tone generally sits better under the band, as the percussion harmonics can sometimes poke out.

“A really neat thing to do after you record a part into your DAW is to push it back in time in the track. How far can it go until it feels great? Until it sounds late? This can be a great gauge for hearing where your natural groove is,” says organist John Ginty, who has worked with Jewel, Santana, and the Dixie Chicks. His latest release Bad News Travels is out now. Find out more at