The Minneapolis Funk Factor

The so-called “Minneapolis sound” is a melting pot of many influences, ranging from Sly and the Family Stone and James Brown to Minnesota-based blues, funk, and R&B artists many of us grew up listening to. Artists like Bonnie Raitt, Willy Murphy, Dave Ray, Tony Glover, and many others played at coffee houses on college campuses all across Minnesota. These ingredients — as much as universally-recognized Minneapolis pillars like Prince and super-producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis — blended into a riveting recipe with a sound all its own.
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The so-called “Minneapolis sound” is a melting pot of many influences, ranging from Sly and the Family Stone and James Brown to Minnesota-based blues, funk, and R&B artists many of us grew up listening to. Artists like Bonnie Raitt, Willy Murphy, Dave Ray, Tony Glover, and many others played at coffee houses on college campuses all across Minnesota. These ingredients — as much as universally-recognized Minneapolis pillars like Prince and super-producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis — blended into a riveting recipe with a sound all its own.

In my touring and recording career with artists such as Prince and David Sanborn, as well as my own solo projects, I’ve always tried to maintain a sense of the funky Minneapolis music I grew up on. Whether I’m playing organ, synth, piano, or Clavinet, I make it a point to create melodic lines that brim with rhythmic life. Here are four ideas to funkify your own keyboard parts.

Ace keyboardist and singer Ricky Peterson guests for this month’s funk lesson. Peterson has carved a singular path, performing with some of today’s most revered artists. Fresh off the road with David Sanborn and Bonnie Raitt, Ricky Peterson just released his Best Of anthology, featuring three new tracks. Look for it on iTunes and at cdbaby.com/cd/rickypeterson4. Peterson is also recording a new album with his acclaimed musical family, featuring brothers Billy and Paul, nephew Jason, and sisters Linda and Patty. Find out more at rickyp.com .

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Click the sheet music thumbnails for larger images.

Synth Stabs. Click for Audio. Here’s a pretty recognizable synth rhythm part I used a lot in the ’80s. It’s based on the minor sixth of the tonic. These were done mostly on Prophet-5 and Oberheim OB-8 synths. Try it yourself, using your mod wheel on the end of the phrase. For maximum funk like in the online audio example, do a quick “wipe” or “smear” up to the big right-hand chord stabs in measures 1, 3, 5, and 7 — the stabs themselves fall on beat 2; the wipe begins a hair ahead of that beat. I recorded this example on a Yamaha S90ES, which proves that you can get that retro-funk sound even without a retro analog synth!

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Baby-Makin’ Ballad Bass.Click for Audio. I played this type of synth bass line, based mainly around the blues scale, on many ’80s ballads — usually on Minimoog, which I love on ballads. Try it yourself on a Minimoog Voyager, or on any virtual analog synth or keyboard preset. In the notation below, if you see two note heads on the same stem, don’t hit them both at once — play the lower note and do a quick pitchbend to the higher note.

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Clav Comp. Click for Audio. Here’s a Clavinet rhythm part I’ve used on a lot of records. I prefer to play this alongside a guitar player who’s not using a wah pedal. These rhythms are based on the use of two notes in second-position fifths, starting on the seventh, and going to the tonic. Make sure to play this with a triplet feel with a healthy amount of swing, and if it’s all a bit much, experiment with omitting notes in the more dense cluster voicings — some of them are more “hinted at” than played. Here, I played a Clav sound on a Yamaha Motif ES7.

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Bubbling B-3.Click for Audio. This is the rhythmic organ style I played on many David Sanborn and Prince albums in the early ’90s. I usually use the first three drawbars and add some Hammond vibrato/chorus at the C3 setting, which is the deepest. Most of the funky rhythms start on the “one.” Don’t forget to “rake” up to it! I’m playing this on a real Hammond B-3.

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