Whether I’m playing keyboards with the Steve Miller Band, stretching out with the Victor Wooten Band, or laying down my own brand of funk, soul, and rock with my band the Hands of Soul, my playing is all about rhythm. From funky leads to gospel voicings, the common denominator has always been groove. Here are some ideas from my playing that will add fire to your funk.
1. Sixteenth-Note Triplets
This is the first eight bars of a solo similar to what I’ve played on various live performances of my brother Victor’s tune “Cambo.” It uses a quick triplet pattern that’s become a trademark of mine. I play it using primarily the pentatonic scale, but you can approach it in a variety of ways. For example, in bar 8, I switch from a pentatonic sound to a whole-tone one. Practice this lick in all 12 keys, using fingers 1, 2, and 3 on the right hand (or sometimes 1, 2, and 4), followed by fingers 2 and 3 on the left hand. A similar type of pattern appears in my synth lead solo from “Mouth to Mouth.”
2. Clavinet Breakdown
Here’s the Clav breakdown from my song “Mouth to Mouth.” I played it on a Nord Electro 2, using a Snarling Dogs wah pedal, with the wah effect used mainly in quarter-note succession. The thing to remember about Clavinet playing is that the main rhythm is carried by the right hand, and the left hand works to set it up, much like the way your left hand kicks jazz bass on a Hammond B-3 organ.
3. Synth Lead
The style of this solo is reminiscent of George Duke, who changed my life the first time I heard him bend pitch on a Minimoog. The upward scale towards in bar 9 is a C altered scale, with half-steps added between the Eb and F, and between the Bb and C. I like to add an extra half-step in altered scales to make them sing rhythmically in 4/4 time. [The triangle symbol, such as after the Db chord in measure 2, is an alternate way of notating a major seventh chord. —Ed.]
4. The Gospel
Here’s an example of how rhythmic delivery can make even a repetitive chord progression sing out and groove. These voicings are derived from my song “The Gospel,” which my brother Victor used on his Palmystery CD. Accenting and anticipating chords can give your keyboard parts an extra measure of funk flair.
Joseph Wooten has played keyboards in the Steve Miller Band for 17 years. He also performs with bassist brother Victor in the Victor Wooten Band, as well as with brothers Regi, Roy (Futureman), Rudy, and Victor as the Wooten Brothers. In 2007, Joseph released Hands Of Soul as a leader, and is currently recording its follow-up Life, Love, Truth. Learn more at handsofsoul.com.