Four mainstays of any real or virtual keyboard collection are the Hammond organ, the Wurlitzer and Rhodes electric pianos, and the Moog Minimoog synthesizer. These captivating keyboards are known the world over for their ability to cover chords, lead lines, and just about any other kind of musical fare thrown at them. But here are some ways to use these venerable instruments that just may surprise you!
1. Hammond as Percussion
The Hammond Organ is a versatile beast. Most of us are familiar with the smoky growl, blazing leads, and warm pads this tonewheel terror can emit. But the Hammond organ can alsobe used to create interesting and unexpected rhythm track elements, as illustrated in Ex. 1. The percussion setting allows you to add second or third harmonics to the front of the envelope of a note. The percussion sounds somewhere between a pitched clave and a muted rhythm guitar.
To integrate Hammond into a rhythm track, the first step is to analyze the chord and rhythmic structure of the music at hand. Single note muted parts are common on rhythm guitar parts, so start by creating lines that outline the chords. Try emulating a funky rhythm guitar by playing short notes that move rhythmically. For added effect, add a slow phase-shifter or wah-wah style filter. A delay line set to dotted eighths with a few repeats adds even more vibe. Who needs guitar anyway! If you want to be less funky, try playing chords as repeating eighth or sixteenth notes. Integrate your chords against the rhythmic subdivisions – you can usually hone in on them by soloing a hi-hat, rhythm guitar, or shaker part. Less can be more when outlining an interesting chord rhythm pattern, so try dropping notes or chords here or there and see how the pattern unfolds. Conveying chords with economy leaves more room for other instruments or vocals. You can also try using two voice chords to create less girth. Your mix engineer will thank you! In terms of signal processing, a slow moving filter can get you into interesting, sonic territory. Try doubling your part without syncing the filters to create stereo shifting Hammond percussion rhythm parts.
2. Wurlitzer As Bass
Here’s the situation: The bass player didn’t show up. Your Rhodes is in the shop. You loaned your Minimoog to a traveling Prog Circus Polka band. What do you do? Brush the dust off of your Wurlitzer electric piano. It will be your bass player for the day, as in Ex. 2.
The key to any good bass part is to think like a bass player. The Wurlitzer is great for moving lines that have a bit of soul and funk to them. Dynamics are your friend! Mark the accents in the bar by playing harder, bringing out the growl. Mix up long and soft notes. Try playing fewer notes with more variety. If you ever need inspiration, find a classic Motown tune and play along with it. Equalization can also play a great role in making the Wurlitzer rock as a bass. Try rolling off some midrange and adding some low end. Add an envelope follower for some unexpected funk bass. I personally like Fuzz on the Wurly. You can also double the bass line with other instruments. A classic double is muted guitar with a bit of spring reverb an octave up, but you can use any monophonic sound with short decay. Experiment and you might never go back!
3. Rhodes as String Pads
The Rhodes electric piano is a lot more versatile than you might believe. One of the best uses for it is filling out the chords of a song in a way that’s not too dense, as illustrated in Ex. 3. Don’t play too hard or you will get the classic Rhodes “clang.” Soft to medium is all you need here. How you voice your chords is key – try playing chords clustered around Middle C. If you play too many low notes, things can get muddy, and if you play too many high notes, your pads will sound ringy and bell like. Try open voicings, spreading the notes of your chords out so nothing is too close. Adding suspensions that resolve can also help add an orchestral string feel. A single passing note can really help to add interest as well. The key to making Rhodes pads sound string like is using a chorus effect. I love the old Roland Dimension D for this application, and I also frequently use the Xils-Lab Chor’X. Adding tape or analog delay makes things more dense and ambient as well. Sound Toy’s Echoboy is also fantastic effect for this.
4. Minimoog as Vocal Double
Producers frequently use vocal effects processing to create interest with a lead vocal. Another great technique is to double the vocal melody with an instrument. The Minimoog is ideal for this because it can be so expressive. You can bend and gliss, and open and close the filter to emulate the timbre of a human vocal. Ex. 4 demonstrates this technique.
Here I use a single Sawtooth wave oscillator for its harmonic content. Try using medium resonance. Don’t send too much envelope to the filter – open and close it by hand so it gets brighter and duller just like the vocal. Learning to emulate a vocal can actually help you play more interesting leads even when not doubling. Try this technique in a chorus and you will be surprised how much the melody can pop out. Add in some stereo delay for extra effect. I love the FabFilter Timeless delay as it can add a lot of movement to the Minimoog. You can also try using the same reverb as the vocal for a natural blend.
“The sky’s the limit when it comes to using classic keyboards in surprising ways, so put on your lab coat and start experimenting” says New York-based keyboardist, composer and producer David Baron. Baron has written jingles and TV theme songs, and appeared on records by Lenny Kravitz and Michael Jackson. He makes his own records on vintage analog gear and plays keyboards in the band Media. Visit him at www.edisonmusiccorp.com .