Even accomplished keyboardistssometimes struggle when playing the mighty Hammond B-3 organ — especially if they were trained on piano. It’s not velocitysensitive, has no sustain pedal, and can get louder than heck. Many traditional piano and chord voicing techniques don’t apply on the B-3, so you’ll need to start thinking about playing in a completely different way.
Here are seven tips to help you develop your organ technique. I’ll focus on how to inject expression and dynamics into your lines, and how to connect your chord parts together using legato phrasing. Essential songs to help you better understand the B- 3 organ include “Green Onions” by Booker T. and the MGs and “Everybody’s Everything” by Santana. I’ll suggest drawbar settings for each example, but feel free to experiment with them on your own. That’s what organ players do!
Click sheet music below to open it larger in a new tab, or find it on pages 30-31 of the May 2010 issue of Keyboard.
Ex. 1. Here are some ways to play a single-note repeating organ pattern, using one or two fingers, or even two hands (as if you are playing a percussion part). Remember to “flick” the short note so that the key bounces right back and the note cuts off. The articulation should sound like this: DO-dat, dat-DO-dat, and so on. Try it with the first two drawbars out, a setting of 88 0000 000. CLICK FOR AUDIO.
Ex. 2. Continue the “flicking” articulation technique from Example 1, adding a longer note with a grace note. The high note will now seem even louder and stronger, almost as if you were giving it an accent. Pull out the third drawbar (8') to give the sound some added presence: 88 8000 000. CLICK FOR AUDIO.
Ex. 3. Playing over a left-hand repeating bass line is a great way to practice your organ soloing. Start with a drawbar setting of 88 8000 000, and add some percussion. If you want more grit in the sound, pull out the fourth drawbar (4') for a setting of 88 8300 000. CLICK FOR AUDIO.
Ex. 4. An effective organ part seamlessly links chords and melodies together. Since the Hammond doesn’t have a sustain pedal, it’s up to your fingers to do the linking. Many times, the B-3’s organ sound is rich enough that just a single-note line is all you need. Try this one with the “first four out” drawbar setting: 88 8800 000. CLICK FOR AUDIO.
Ex. 5. This example starts with a slide or “rake” up to a sustained high E, and illustrates a common organ technique of playing a moving line under a held note. The grace note is played smoothly and on the beat, and all fingers play legato. When you get to the B in bar 2, start it with your index finger, then quickly shift to your fifth finger and hold it. This is one way to keep your parts connected without using a sustain pedal. Drawbar setting: 82 8001 212. CLICK FOR AUDIO.
Ex. 6. Here, we add more notes and chord tones, and experiment with moving fills. In the final bar, notice how the thumb is held down while the upper fingers connect the line. The voicing expands from two to three notes, but all parts are still played in a connected manner. Drawbar setting: 41 5121 246, à la Garth Hudson of the Band. CLICK FOR AUDIO.
Ex. 7. Gospel organ players are masters at playing connected, moving organ parts. Here’s a churchy organ line where the inner voices move smoothly. Practice this slowly by “ragging” your thumb from one note to the next. Drawbar setting: 86 4313 567. CLICK FOR AUDIO.
Session Sensei columnist Scott Healy joins us this month for a Hammond organ primer. Healy is a gifted multitasker of a musician who's been known for his burning keyboard work with TV's Conan O'Brien since 1993. Visit him at bluedogmusic.com.