Voicings for Your Keyboard Stack
[This article first appeared in Contemporary Keyboard - June 1980]
THIS MONTH I WANT TO CONTINUE discussing various ways to use your keyboard stack. Keep in mind that the approaches and concepts I offer are given only as examples. There are far too many possibilities for me to discuss them all, and you'll have to invent your own based on the needs of your group. The idea is to open your mind to as many possibilities as you can. With the keyboards available today, the musical and coloristic combinations are endless, and your goal should be to make your own combination of instruments, whatever you might have in your stack, work for you to deliver the punch that the tune needs.
Given below is the bass riff for the intro of a tune of mine called "The Prince And The Dragon." This intro could be approached in a lot of different ways. You could double the bass player, playing the line either on a synthesizer or with your left hand on electric piano. Along with this you could add some chords in the right hand, either some sparse punctuation on electric piano to complement the rhythm or some sustained chords on a polyphonic synthesizer to fill in the sound. If the guitar is doubling the bass, you may want to play two-handed chords. I've given three different ways that these chords could be voiced on a poly synth. The third example is voiced in fourths, which might give it the added punch you're looking for. When playing fourth-chords on a synthesizer, I would favor a brighter patch over a darker one, and a fast attack, as the fourth-chord sonority seems to call for this.
Now here's the melody to the 'C' section of the same tune. First I've showed a basic voicing you could play on poly synth. Next is a voicing using pedal tones, which can be a really hip sound (as long as you get it together with the bass player). Note that in this example the original B7 and A7 chords are actually being voiced as dominant chords on the roots an augmented fourth away from the original root (F7#5 and Eb13). Finally, I've given an example using a chord substitution, a II minor preceding each of the dominant-type chords.
These ideas will get you started. You can develop many more on your own. Always remember that it's unique and interesting sounds that highlight a tune and capture the listener's attention. Sometimes the keyboards will play a supporting role and you won't necessarily want the listener to be aware of the contribution you're making (no matter how important it is). But when you do want to come forward more and be noticed, these voicings and others like them will give you the power you need.
Work on coming up with some of these textures to use in your own material. Remember, your keyboard stack is your orchestra, so use it like one!