The Art of Synth Soloing: Patrick Moraz

Image placeholder title

From the opening notes of “Sound Chaser” on Yes’ 1974 Relayer album, it was clear that there was a new influencer in prog-rock, and he sounded nothing like his predecessors or peers. Swiss-born Patrick Moraz came onto the scene armed with a formidable background in classical and jazz music and a strong penchant for drawing from his eclectic influences, and for playing in the moment. As Bob Doerschuk wrote in his 1991 Keyboard interview, “In the glory days of prog rock, he carved an identity distinct from those of his two greatest rivals; his lines were more fluid, less muscular than those of Keith Emerson, more jazz-tinged and harmonically sophisticated than Wakeman’s.”

This month, we will concentrate on two of Moraz’s seminal and jaw-dropping performances to both humble and inspire us mere mortals.


Perhaps the most controversial tune to come from Yes up to that point, “Sound Chaser” found the band expanding their technical skills. Full of turn-on-a- dime tempo changes and varying time signatures, the song was one that fans either loved or hated. But all agree that Patrick Moraz tore it up on his solo section, on the original recording and on the live versions (officially released or found on the Internet).

The synth solo section is in 6/4 (to my ears) and is played over an F7 chord. Ex. 1 shows the opening, and the first few bars are based on the i minor pentatonic scale. But check out the phrase leading into and through bar 5—a bebop lick that sounds like something the late T Lavitz would play with the Dregs—certainly new vocabulary for prog-rock. Bars 6-8 explore a small motif that sounds influenced by Jan Hammer’s style of dis-placing groups of notes across the beat/bar line. Then it’s back to some minor pentatonic lines, followed by a nice syncopation and then a (possibly two-handed) repeated note volley.

Ex. 1. The opening of the bravura solo on “Sound Chaser” from Relayer (1974). 

Example 2 jumps ahead two bars (past some breakneck chromatic and scalar runs) to showcase a cool technique. After an ascending minor pentatonic run, Moraz grabs the tuning knob for one of the Minimoog’s three oscillators and bends the pitch against the root tone, mimicking a guitar technique called a double-stop bend. This is where a guitarist plays two notes, but only bends one of the strings against the other (usually bending a lower note up into the other held tone). Moraz starts doing this in bar 14, but then goes a bit wild with the bending coming from below to above throughout bar 15, and then setting back down in bar 15 before ending with a dramatic slow bend back to unison at the end of bar 16. It’s a very effective and dramatic technique, worth your exploration. The full solo is available online HERE for further study.

Image placeholder title

Ex. 2. A later section from the “Sound Chaser” solo showcasing Moraz’s technique of bending one oscillator against the other, to great effect.

Image placeholder title


Examples 3 and 4 come from Patrick’s first solo album, The Story of I, released in 1976. The album traverses a wide range of musical styles and influences, with some songs sounding like they could have come from Yes, others showcasing Moraz’s love of Brazilian music, and others quite cinematic in scope. Both examples come from a tune titled “Indoors” (sometimes seen as “Indoors: Interaction”). Within it, Moraz trades some groups of eight-bar phrases with guitarist Ray Gomez, in classic fusion-era jamming. (Note: to make the examples easier to read, I notated what is clearly a 12/8 groove as 6/4 instead. So, the underlying pulse is the quarter note, rather than the eighth note, and the feeling of 4 comes across two bars [beats one and four of each bar] instead on one.)

In Ex.3, we find Moraz soloing over a colorful section that sounds like a G7 with a suspended fourth and a flat ninth, and sometimes the suspension resolves back into the third. Usually on this sound, a jazz or fusion player will use the harmonic-minor scale from the root a fifth below the chord, or in this case, the C harmonic-minor scale (C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, B, C). This is sometimes called the Phrygian Dominant scale as well (G, Ab, B, C, D, Eb, F). But Moraz keeps things more inside by treating it like a normal G dominant-seventh chord, so his lines are more inside and rock-oriented. His opening lick sounds like classic Jeff Beck/Jan Hammer, utilizing the scale dubbed (funnily enough) the Jan Hammer scale (1, 3, 4, 5, 7 or G, B, C, D and F). This moves into another classic, the two-note “fusion lick” as I call it. But check out what he plays next, in bars 5 and 6; another boppy, blues lick that avoids the flat ninth color of the chord, keeping things grounded. A couple more fusion licks follow and he hands things off to the guitarist.

Ex. 3. A solo section taken from Moraz’s first solo album, The Story of I, on the tune “Indoors.” Note how he stays squarely on a G7 tonality, although the chord is more colorful.

Example 4 uses the same harmonic color (sus4/b9), but now played on an F7 chord. Moraz opens his section with only the root, fourth, fifth, and flat-seventh of the chord (F, Bb, C and Eb), keeping things very bright and major sounding. In bars 19 and 20 he uses the complete F minor pentatonic scale, and then returns to the simpler sus4 notes, with an ascending run that is very difficult to finger/execute. This moves in bar 22 to a rapid ascending run that falls outside the key center and into a wild bend that hangs on a E natural— kind of wacky to my ears. He closes out with some very wide bends before resolving back to the next chord for the guitarist’s turn.

Image placeholder title

Ex. 4. Another “trading” phrase from “Indoors,” this time using a mix of minor pentatonic and suspended-fourth/dominant-seventh riffs—very difficult lines to try to play! 

Image placeholder title


Moraz has recorded so much music—solo, with the Moody Blues, and in duo with Bill Bruford, among other projects. He is an astounding pianist and a fearless improviser who embraces the magic of the moment. For an overview of his diverse career, read the interviews in Keyboard’s November 1981 and May 1991 issues.