The Art of Synth Soloing: Derek Sherinian Part II

Exploring mono-mode lead techniques
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While transcribing the lesson clips that Derek Sherinian made for this column, I noticed another technique you can use to super-charge your solos. Call up your favorite mono-mode lead patch and we’ll get started.

THE MONO MODE METHOD

During his solo on “Alive” from the Sons of Apollo’s Psychotic Symphony, Derek played a short figure as shown in Ex. 1. The right-hand pinky holds a note down while the other fingers play shorter note values underneath it.

Ex. 1. The motif from Derek Sherinian’s solo on “Alive,” which
 inspired this month’s column.

Ex. 1. The motif from Derek Sherinian’s solo on “Alive,” which  inspired this month’s column.

If you’re using a monophonic lead with lastnote triggering enabled, the sound will jump up to the higher, sustained pitch each time you let go of a lower note, creating a virtuoso trilling effect. For the technique to sound good, you need to time the attack and release of each note accurately, so there is an even space for the sustained note to sound again.

To improve your rhythmic accuracy, play the simple exercise in Ex. 2 along with a metronome. For the first two beats, hold the lower note for a full eighth-note value and then release it to allow the upper note to sound again. The notes should all sound connected, or legato in nature. As you move to beat 3 the values are shorter, so the alternation will happen twice as fast. The key is to release the lower note perfectly in time so it sounds like you are playing a sixteenth-note trill.

Ex. 2. Using a mono-mode lead patch, hold the upper note while playing the
 lower notes. Pay careful attention to the timing of each note release, so your upper note sounds again in perfect rhythm.

Ex. 2. Using a mono-mode lead patch, hold the upper note while playing the  lower notes. Pay careful attention to the timing of each note release, so your upper note sounds again in perfect rhythm.

Try this exercise at various tempos, using any pitches you choose. Note that your mono-mode lead sound should have its filter open; if it decays to a lower level your notes won’t sound as clear.

MORE RIFFS AND APPROACHES

Here are some exercises that will help you further develop this technique. Example 3a is a scale fragment, not unlike a Hanon piano exercise you might have studied years ago. Example 3b spreads your hand a little wider, as does Ex. 3c.

Ex. 3. These four exercises will get you started playing riffs and scale lines using the held-note technique.

Ex. 3. These four exercises will get you started playing riffs and scale lines using the held-note technique.

Note how I’m asking you to move your third finger from the Eb to the E natural: This is easy to do since you are always releasing the note to allow the upper note to sound again. You can try a fingering variation by bringing your thumb under to play the E natural, as if you were playing a scale; just don’t shift you hand position. Likewise, in Ex. 3d, you can either use the thumb for the last two notes or shift your second finger down to play the D note.

For the next group of exercises, I am revisiting the idea of using two hands to play riffs as we explored last month. In Ex. 4a, the scale is extended by an additional note that you’ll play using the left hand. Notice that I use up stems for right-hand notes and down stems for left-hand notes. In Ex. 4b, I’m using the blues scale and varying the notes a bit more. Example 4c is a little fancier, varying the notes that the left hand plays. You should transpose these to all 12 keys, use different scales and modes, and come up with your own variations.

Ex. 4. This next group of exercises brings in the left hand. Notice that I use up stems for right-hand
 notes and down stems for the left hand.

Ex. 4. This next group of exercises brings in the left hand. Notice that I use up stems for right-hand  notes and down stems for the left hand.

ALTERNATING HANDS

This technique works really well when you alternate note choices between the hands. Example 5 is a descending trill that has a bit of flamenco flair. Use this technique with all sorts of harmonic progressions, outlining triads or more advanced voicings.

Ex. 5. Try alternating the two hands for an easy but effective variation of this technique.

Ex. 5. Try alternating the two hands for an easy but effective variation of this technique.

Example 6 has jazzier movement that outlines two different key centers, while in Ex. 7, I keep two notes constant in the left hand while the right hand moves a single note to create melodies. Use these ideas as a springboard for your own study and explorations.

Ex. 6. A more harmonically varied version of the alternating hands technique. You can easily
 move into free playing with this approach.

Ex. 6. A more harmonically varied version of the alternating hands technique. You can easily  move into free playing with this approach.

Ex. 7. The final example uses two notes in the left hand as an anchor while the right hand
 moves a single note around to create melodies.

Ex. 7. The final example uses two notes in the left hand as an anchor while the right hand  moves a single note around to create melodies.

DEREK’S NORD LEAD APPROACH

Visit Keyboard's website (keyboardmag.com) to see a video of Derek showing us his approach to using the Nord Lead as a soloing instrument. In the video, he takes a basic sawtooth lead and uses all external signal processing, treating the Nord synth as if it were an electric guitar running through stompboxes and a Marshall amp. When it comes to getting a warm tube sound and various degrees of overdrive, guitar-oriented effects are the way to go.