Sam Yahel’s Hammond Concepts

A masterclass from the May 2011 issue of KEYBOARD.
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In my touring and recording work on the Hammond organ, I’ve developed certain musical concepts that have served me well. Here are some tips and tricks for working with bass, melody, and harmony on the mighty Hammond B-3. As always, practice these slowly and deliberately, working them through all 12 keys—and don’t forget to keep practicing!

1. Organ Bass Lines

I’ve always been fascinated by bass players, especially funky ones like James Jamerson, Rocco Prestia, and Jaco Pastorius. In Ex. 1, I pay homage to their styles, accentuating the off-beats in the bass line. I play this kind of vamp on the title track of my album Truth and Beauty.

Sam Yahel lesson ex 1

2. Triad Tricks: Chords

Here’s a staple of organ playing: triads. I play over a ii-V-I progression in Eb major, using mostly inversions of the IV (Ab) and IV (Bb) major triad chords. When playing triads on the organ, I often open them up in the “drop 2” position, which means that I take a “normal” triad and drop the middle note down an octave. Even though I’m using triads, the top note is still the melody. This allows for quick and convincing harmonization of a simple melodic phrase.

Sam Yahel lesson ex 2

3. Triad Tricks: Solo Lines

This time, we apply the triad approach to solo lines. I start each of the two phrases arepggiating an F minor triad, and finish them both with a scale-based melodic line at the end. I play two phrases back to back, and although they both start the same way, each ends slightly differently. This sets up a “call and answer” scenario that the listener can key into.

Sam Yahel lesson ex 3

4. Harmony

This neat harmonization trick works on most simple pentatonic melodies. The idea is to think of the chords in two sections. The top part plays the pentatonic melody, and the bottom two voices simply move down chromatically. I suggest playing the top voice with the right hand and the bottom two voices with the left hand. Notice how at the very end, I wrap up the harmony by playing a iv-I progression.

Sam Yahel lesson ex 4

Sam Yahel has toured and recorded with Norah Jones, Joshua Redman, and Madeleine Peyroux. His albums Truth and Beauty and Hometown are available now, and continue to win praise from listeners and critics alike. Find out more at