Ken's Five Rules For Keyboards

At Our Place our instrumentation for the "rockin'" gatherings is very simple: drums, bass, and electric guitar. That's it. We've been doing it that way for a long time, and I Iike the raw approach. I do have an opening though for my "dream band member". I would like to have a keyboard/ableton live/reason/dj person in the band. Someone to lay down pads and keep things ethereal, something for me to layer delayed guitars over...

Someone who knows not to play all the time. That has always been my frustration with keyboard players is that they have trouble NOT playing. Like some songs don't need keys at all, but a person behind a keyboard has trouble doing nothing for a whole song. Even harder for two songs. Or to just hold one note forever.

I want keys that are boring for the most part. Sometimes you just need keys to thicken a guitar part and that's it. I'd like someone who knows how to take a "producer" approach to things. A pad here, a sample there, a drum loop in the bridge, a spacey rhodes intro, simple, plain, unobtrusive. With a good ear for how to add to what's going on without changing direction.

Here are Ken's Five Rules For Keyboards:

1. Use one hand at a time.

2. Use three fingers or less.

3. Don't play eighth notes.

4. Especially don't play sixteenth notes.

5. NEVER play that piano/strings combo patch.

Get me? :-) Now don't get me wrong. Yes, I do like an occasional song led more by the keys, where the guitar plays a backing role, or doesn't play at all. In that case, the above rules do not apply. But most of the time I find "less is more" when it comes to keys.


*Sent via BlackBerry


David Golden said...

Whoa there, cowboy! I’ll tell you how to revolutionize your band, although I know you’ll never do it. Save up about 25 grand and buy a GRAND. Good old acoustic piano fits in anywhere (yes, yes, it can sit out some songs too). It can sound raw, it can sound refined, it can pad, it can solo, it can support, it can shine, it can rock. If Mozart, jazz, blues, country, etc are ever in the house, it can fit in most anywhere. A century from now when your current set up is languishing in a museum of musical oddities the piano will still be making music on the cutting edge.

My guess is you’re a little younger than me. I grew up standing on the main floor of the Portland Coliseum watching Keith Emerson claw out sweaty solos on a monophonic moog, with the funky patch cords sticking out everywhere, swooping and soaring until it shot out fireworks and smoke (literal ones, not just musical ones). How do people refer to that music now? PRETENTIOUS! Pretentious? How dare they!

You probably grew up watching Flock of Seagulls and Simple Minds play those nice one-handed, three-fingered riffs which you know so well. And pads. Texture. Background. Keyboard parts that say “I can’t believe it’s not a robot! Oh that’s right, it IS a robot!” Everyone and their dog playing a Yamaha DX-7 (digital of course, or maybe an analog of some kind if they have hand sanitizer available).

But on the other hand, you’re a blues man too. So you should have some soft spot in your heart for a good piano and a Hammond B-3.

A piano is a great addition to any band. But guitar players have trouble realizing that sometimes they can sit out on the verse, and just join on the chorus. Or sit out, then come in with a blazing solo out of the blue. Or even sit out a whole song, and let the piano carry it. And NO I am not talking about just ballads.

I realize there are no keys in punk or grunge. That’s because everyone assumes that if you play piano you’ve had lessons somewhere along the line, and you probably have more than a passing knowledge of music theory. It destroys that DIY mystique.

My perfect praise band would be structured like Soul Asylum. An acoustic guitar driving it with just some good folky strumming, and an electric guitar having fun with riffs, musical gymnastics, color. A piano (acoustic) and B-3 (I’ll even accept a synthesized substitute) giving soul and the universe of subtlety. And just some good back to basics bass and drums playing (bass player limited to 3 notes per measure, and no thumb slaps allowed, because they are not Christ-like). Everyone takes turns on lead vocals. Everyone gets at least one instrumental solo (yes, including the drums). And the whole thing unified with a “raw but fun” aesthetic.

I KNOW that’s what Jesus would do.

Ken said...

Wow. This has got to be one of the best comments I have ever received! I'm posting you on the main page!

cass said...

hey man..

why don't you buy reason 4 and a midi controller and make your own loops... thats what my band does...

play what you want, then pan it all to the right, run a click track through the left audio channel to in ears, or headphones for the drummer... and go for it...

Ken said...

Exactly. I would love someone jamming Reason or Ableton Live. But I would rather them have a tap tempo pad so they can adjust their tempo in real time with the band. There are several songs we do where we morph tempos mid song, and a click track, even with a tempo map, can really rob the live vibe. Someday I will meet that special someone who knows how to play loops and sequences live in real time with tap tempo like a real instrument, rather than forcing the rest of the band to slave to a computer set up...