Often, our jobs involve playing multiple keyboard parts at once. As important as the music itself is, it’s also vital to make sure that your multikey rig works ergonomically with both your body and playing style. Keeping your body relaxed even when your keyboard parts are on fire can go a long way towards minimizing tension—and maximizing playing power. Here are four two-fisted techniques to get you up and running. Make sure to check out storied players like Benmont Tench and Chuck Leavell to see the Samurai Keyboard Code in action!
[Session Sensei columnist Scott Healy is a gifted multitasker of a musician known for his burning work on TV with Conan O’Brien since 1993. Visit him at bluedogmusic.com. -Jon Regen]
Click sheet music icons for larger images. Lesson continues after these web extras:
- Audio examples - refer to sheet music on pp. 32-36.
- Videos: Legendary multi-keys samurai Benmont Tench
- Ex. 1. Right hand organ lines, left hand Wurly comps.
- Ex. 2. Right hand string line, left hand piano
- Ex. 3. Right hand organ chords, left hand piano comping
- Ex. 4. Right hand synth line, left hand Rhodes.
Ex 1. Right hand organ lines, left hand Wurly comps.
Here’s the always funky marriage of Wurlitzer EP and Hammond organ. I put the volume pedal for my organ under my right foot, like on a real B-3, so I can really ride the level. The organ’s expression pedal is a huge part of its human sound, so be sure to make it part of yours. Single lines work great on the organ, especially if you’re laying them down hard with the left hand on the electric piano. I like to control Leslie speed with a switch by my left foot; traditional B-3 cats prefer the “half-moon” switch near the left hand.
Ex 2. Right hand string line, left hand piano.
Piano and strings is one of the most called-for multi-key combinations, so you need to be able to execute it smoothly. Again, volume and blend are paramount. Strings can overwhelm the mix if you don’t use them sparingly. Some players like to control their string levels with a volume pedal at left, freeing up the right foot for the piano sustain pedal. I like a string sound with a good amount of velocity sensitivity—that way I can control the level by touch.
Ex 3. Right hand organ chords, left hand piano comping.
Organ and piano—perfect together! Less is more when it comes to voicing organ chords over piano. Use voice-leading and link the upper notes of the organ chords for a legato effect. Again, don’t forget to ride that volume pedal. Think of what two individual players would do, and be both of them yourself. You’re creating a musical dialogue between your two hands, so keep things simple but effective.
Ex 4. Right hand synth line, left hand Rhodes.
Synth and Rhodes can be a symphony unto themselves. Maybe you’ve got a difficult prog tune with multiple parts, or you’re soloing on synth with your right hand while comping with your left. Balancing sound levels between your multiple keyboards is a huge secret to their success. Solo lines should be loud and proud. Experience will give you a feel for grabbing wheels and sliders to control pitchbend, modulation, filters, and so on, all while keeping your chording constant.