SPACE IS THE PLACE - Matt Rollings on Playing Hammond from the Heart

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I’m not really an organ player by trade. I'm a piano player first. But in the early nineties, when was starting to play a lot of sessions in Nashville, there was always a Hammond B-3 in the recording studio, and it fell on whoever the “keyboardist du jour” was to play it. So I just jumped-in. My organ concept is definitely about feel, and trying to find space in a track, and I tend to look for ways to play fewer notes, hopefully, to greater effect. It's amazing how the sound of a chord will suddenly start buzzing and get bigger when a note or two is removed. So, in an effort to jumpstart your own Hammond explorations, here are four examples of ways I use space on the Big B3 to achieve maximum aural impact.

1. Long Tones & Moving Lines

Listen to sound clip at /Portals/2/Organ Lesson_01-01.mp3

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Ex. 1 illustrates my frequent use of long tones and moving lines underneath them. The use of half steps resolving to 3rds and then 4ths is a great tension and release vehicle, and allows the use of a minimal amount of notes for maximum sonic effect. My drawbar settings here are 8' - 8, 2' - 3, 1' – 3. Organ is set to NO vibrato and NO percussion.

2. Heavenly Held Notes

Listen to sound clip at /Portals/2/Organ Lesson_02-01.mp3

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Ex. 2 is a Gospel-flavored passage that demonstrates just how much musical mileage can be gotten out of a few held notes. Drawbars settings for this example are 16' - 7, 5 1/3' - 5, 8' - 8, 4' - 2, 2' - 3, 1' – 3. Again, organ is set to NO vibrato and NO percussion.

3. Funky Organ Flair

Listen to sound clip at/Portals/2/Organ Lesson_03-01.mp3

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Who says Clav players have more funk? In Ex. 3, I’m still using space and held notes as I did previously, but here I'm also injecting funky R&B licks into my playing as well. Notice how my right and left hands grab bouncy, percussive glisses and riffs. Drawbar settings here are 8' - 7, 2 2/3' - 3, 1' – 2. Organ is set to C3 vibrato and NO percussion.

4. Two Note Parts & Counter Melodies

Listen to sound clip at /Portals/2/Organ Lesson_04-02.mp3

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Often times on the B3, I’ll hold down notes while simultaneously creating counter melodies underneath them. In Ex. 4, I’m playing two note parts that consist of held notes and moving lines. Once again, this “push and pull” effect creates tension and release – two important components of any good musical message. Drawbar settings here are 16' - 6, 5 1/3' - 7, 8' - 6, 2' - 1, 1' – 1. Organ is set to NO vibrato and NO percussion.

Storied Nashville-based keyboardist, producer, and songwriter Matt Rollings has carved out a singular musical path, working with legendary artists like Lyle Lovett, Mark Knopfler, Keith Urban and Alison Krauss. Find-out more at