Larry Goldings Takes Your B-3 Playing to the Next Level

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Larry Goldings has injected his signature Hammond organ and multi-keyboard sound across funk, pop, jazz, and alternative music. He has toured and recorded with Pat Metheny, Maceo Parker, Madeleine Peyroux, and James Taylor, and his songs have appeared in Space Cowboys, Proof, and The Office. Visit him at

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1. Go to Church

In this Gospel accompaniment idea, I harmonize a melodic line. In the first bar of Ex. 1a, I alternate between a Bb triad and a C minor triad. Note that the inversions change as the line descends. As the idea nears its resolution in bar 2, I pass to the last chord with a diminished chord. Ex. 1b is similar to Ex. 1a, but with rhythmic variation. When I’m playing organ in this style, I typically use a very transparent drawbar setting, such as pulling out only the 8' or 4' drawbar. The Leslie would be fast, with no chorus/vibrato. Using such an airy sound really lets you stand out without getting in the way texturally. Hear this kind of playing on my CD Quartet, on the track “Hesitation Blues.”

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2. Chord Symbols Are Just Suggestions

When given a chord chart, take tasteful liberties that improve on the existing harmonies. In Ex. 2, I’m using clusters in bar 1 (which sound great on organ) and fourths in bar 2 (also a strong sound), while ascending step-wise with the top note. This provides good voiceleading to resolve on an unexpected F minor/major seventh chord—notice how rich a sound you can achieve with these types of voicings. When I’m comping, I typically have the first and third drawbars out, and the second drawbar out halfway. Use the C3 chorus/vibrato setting on your Hammond or clonewheel, with the Leslie effect braked. Check out my CDs Moonbird and As One, especially the songs “Woodstock” and “Mixed Message,” for many related examples.

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3. Less is More

When your left hand is busy playing bass lines, your right-hand chords can only have five or six voices. But a big sound with lots of harmony is possible with just two notes, particularly if one of them is moving. Use this idea to think about moving inner voices. Because it sustains, the organ is perfect for this. Notice how the bottom line in the right hand creates dissonance and suspensions in the harmony. Ex. 3 is particularly useful on a ballad.

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4. Comp Freddie Green style

Guitarist Freddie Green played with the legendary Count Basie, and organ players can learn a thing or three from him. His kind of accompaniment, shown in the chord sequence in Ex. 4, is all about voice leading, thirds and sevenths, and groove. Comping like this can also be effective behind a guitar solo, since that instrument is no longer providing the pulse if it’s soloing. If you’re playing in half time, this can inject a nice, light swing feel into the music. Don’t rush—lay back, and dig in a bit more on beats 2 and 4.

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5. Add Second and Third Voices to your Melody

I often improvised a harmonized, secondary melody in one lower voice, as in Ex. 5a. It could be a sixth below a voice that moves in contrary motion to the melody, or simply a strong second line that implies more harmony, adding shape and color. When your left hand is playing bass lines, this is a great way to fill up the sound without resorting to block chords, which sometimes sound too heavy-handed. 

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Ex. 5b adds a third voice, harmonized with the interval of a second. This sounds much less predictable than playing block chords. Pull out your first three drawbars, and set percussion to third harmonic, soft, and long decay. Use C3-setting chorus. My lower-manual bass setting is typically the first and third drawbars out all the way, and the second drawbar halfway. Again, try a braked Leslie setting. A good example of this is on “I Think it’s Going To Rain Today” from my CD Moonbird.

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6. Think Shapes

To play “outside” of the harmony, I think less in terms of modes and scales, and more in terms of shapes. In the ii-V-i progression of Ex. 6, I start by outlining the D half-diminished chord to create a clear jumping-off point. Then I alternate between two shapes: fourths and triads. My goal is to land on my feet once I get back to the C minor chord. This wide intervallic sound is great on the organ, and is all over my playing—listen to “Zoloft” off Moonbird, and “If” from Trio Beyond’s Saudades CD.

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