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Keyboard as lead instrument?


Tusker

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Wondering what you think of this ...

 

The keyboard seems to have been around forever and seems to consistently be an accompaniment instrument in popular music. We had the jazz age, when the keyboard accompanied the horns. And now we have a rock age where the keyboard accompanies the guitar.

 

(Yes I know there are genre and individual exceptions. And I don't know yet whether the electronic genres signal a massive shift or a flash in the pan.)

 

Would you agree with this observation? Why do you think it transpired this way? Do you think it can/will change? What will change it?

 

Cheers,

 

Jerry

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I do agree and I think it has something to do with the control we have over our keyboards. For years I have envied sax and guitar players because of what they can do with a single expressive note. Gaining that ability has been my top goal as a keyboardist since I first played with an excellent guitarist.

 

Robert

This post edited for speling.
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I think this is the case because the piano is by its very polyphonic nature inherently an accompanying instrument (in addition to a lead or solo instrument - that what makes us so great).

 

That is not to say, however, that the piano/keyboard can't (or doesn't) often come to the forefront. It's just that since we provide harmony & rhythm, we end up doing just that for the instruments/voices which cannot.

Weasels ripped my flesh. Rzzzzzzz.
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I think this is the case because the piano is by its very polyphonic nature inherently an accompanying instrument (in addition to a lead or solo instrument - that what makes us so great).

And that's why we need a big symphony orchestra in case of a piano concerto. ;)

What's interesting to me is that keys players have different functions. One night I play a jazz trio concert and I'm up front, the other night I'll do a funk gig with an eight piece band and me and the rhythm boys have to kick the singer's ass. I have to agree, I have more jobs as a comper than as a soloist.

http://www.bobwijnen.nl

 

Hipness is not a state of mind, it's a fact of life.

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Maybe this is just my "classic rock" and blues history showing through -- but I think of myself as a member of the "rhythm section". I just get way more solos than the bassist or drummer do. :D

 

But I love that feeling of connecting with a drummer and a bassist, laying it down hard and tight, and letting the vox and guitar do their thing. Nothin' like it, especially when the dance floor fills up...

 

--Dave

Make my funk the P-funk.

I wants to get funked up.

 

My Funk/Jam originals project: http://www.thefunkery.com/

 

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But that is the interesting part about being a keyboard player. The different harmonic and rhythmic contexts of the gigs that I play are what I find as the challenge. Within the last month, I played in an old time Big Band, a modern Big Band, a country/blues group, and a funk band. And it is always interesting to playing in those different genres. I played a few with the same sax player, and since he had a more defined "part" to play and less room he was much more confined than I was to interpret the different contexts.
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Keyboardists are called to cover so many grounds. They are supposed to know their harmony, scales and voicings inside out, dealing with millions of different sounds, play bass in the pocket with drums and chords with the laziness of strings... Synth lead playing is an art in itself, I don't see every keyboardist taking the necessary steps to perfect this technique. It's understandable: After all, every other instrumentalist is asked to develop only one language! Ask a sax player to play funk bass on his EWI... :D

The worst thing is to hear a solo like you would play on the piano, only played with a pan flute or pulse wave sound with the occasional pitch bend... Bleeargh.

To me, in order to become a proficient lead synth player, you need to think about a series of things:

-Learn to program your sounds so that your timbres fulfil your sense of phrasing;

-Decide what controllers you want to use to make your playing expressive: Wheels, aftertouch, ribbon, pedals, breath controller... then adjust your sound to respond to these controllers IN EXACTLY THE RIGHT AMOUNT FOR YOU. This is an important and delicate step - it can screw your sound if you overdo it.

-Take the time to learn to really PLAY the controllers. This can include having a favorite setting for wheels excursion, for example, but mainly involves just doing it and learning from there.

It takes time to find one's own "sound". We keyboardists are so spoiled by today's wonderful machines (not to speak of the autopilot music we can so easily produce...), that we often neglect certain basic aspect of our own craft.

 

Carlo

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I think there are several parts to an answer to your question.

 

First I think Keys players are hindered by the fact that we have to be stationary. Guitarists and sax players and such are mobile and can work the audience and provide more entertainment. That being the case, the keys guy gets slid to the back and becomes part of the backdrop and scenery for the mobile players. Just being in the background takes away some thoughts about being the lead player.

 

Secondly, we are so diverse with regard to sound and style. We pride ourselves on being able to play anything thrown at us and have the technology to play any replicated or original sound. So we tend to fill in the spaces left open by everyone else. A star guitar player develops a "unique" sound (ie., Stevie Ray Vaughn, Dickie Betts, B.B. King) which others cannot replicate. We can easily replicate Emerson or Wakeman sounds, Jerry Lee, or Billy Joel sounds, etc. Our sounds also tend to be stationary and similar from one instrument to the next. (Heck--we even have keyboards that copy the sounds of other keyboards---the CX-3 for the Hammond)

 

Third, there just aren't any star solo/lead keyboardists out there anymore who can bypass the first two comments above. There aren't any Keith Emersons, or Jerry Lee Lewis' or Roosevelt Sykes' even Elton's anymore. Most music relies not on a star keyboardist anymore, but on a star singer or a star guitar player. This even applies to my type of music--blues.

 

We seem to have accepted the fact we are the jack of all trades and the cure-all to blank spaces in music. Maybe we have become so enamored with our technology and gadgets that we put actual lead playing as an aside? How can this be changed and that the music biz and other musicians realize that keys are more than just icing on the cake?

 

Just my $.02

 

BD

"With the help of God and true friends I've come to realize, I still have two strong legs and even wings to fly" Gregg Allman from "Ain't Wastin Time No More"
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Interesting comments. Before you keyboardists wallow in self-pity or self-condemnation, it should be noted that true solos are increasingly rare in almost all genres of popular recorded music, on all instruments. Except in a few solo-focused genres, guitarists are playing far fewer these days, and the ones that are there tend to be composed counter melodies or simple statements. It's a bad era for wanking in general, unless you're in a genre defined by its wankery aesthetic, e.g., hippie funk, blues, jazz, or shreddd.

 

(flame suit on) I also believe that *in some ways* keys are an inferior solo instrument. As has been suggested above, the expressive vocabulary of the keys is mechanically limited. Granted, you artists get the absolute most out of it, regardless of which keys intstrument. But the mechanics of attack are a limiting factor. Esp. on the harpsichord.

 

That said, what could possibly be better and more difficult than the harmonic possibilities available to the advanced keyboard improviser? Nothing, that's what. So what may be lacking in articulation is more than made up for in harmony. More than with any other instrument, keyboard improvisation really is spontaneous composition involving all the elements of music, IMO, which is why a Bill Evans sits atop the world of improv in my book. I honestly improvising well is probably harder on keyboards than other instruments--in the absence of the ability to slur and squeal properly, you actually have to be interesting and eloquent

 

Er, okay. I'm done.

Check out the Sweet Clementines CD at bandcamp
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Originally posted by Magpel:

Interesting comments. Before you keyboardists wallow in self-pity or self-condemnation, it should be noted that true solos are increasingly rare in almost all genres of popular recorded music, on all instruments. Except in a few solo-focused genres, guitarists are playing far fewer these days, and the ones that are there tend to be composed counter melodies or simple statements. It's a bad era for wanking in general, unless you're in a genre defined by its wankery aesthetic, e.g., hippie funk, blues, jazz, or shreddd.

 

(flame suit on) I also believe that *in some ways* keys are an inferior solo instrument. As has been suggested above, the expressive vocabulary of the keys is mechanically limited. Granted, you artists get the absolute most out of it, regardless of which keys intstrument. But the mechanics of attack are a limiting factor. Esp. on the harpsichord.

 

That said, what could possibly be better and more difficult than the harmonic possibilities available to the advanced keyboard improviser? Nothing, that's what. So what may be lacking in articulation is more than made up for in harmony. More than with any other instrument, keyboard improvisation really is spontaneous composition involving all the elements of music, IMO, which is why a Bill Evans sits atop the world of improv in my book. I honestly improvising well is probably harder on keyboards than other instruments--in the absence of the ability to slur and squeal properly, you actually have to be interesting and eloquent

 

Er, okay. I'm done.

I would have loved to answer point by point, but I'm on a different computer keyboard and in a hurry. So you have it:

 

Solo are increasingly rare in all genres, true. But we're speaking of all lead lines here, not necessarily improvised. And you shouldn't look at what's in the charts exclusively to decide what's right to play. I won't even comment on your idea of jazz and other genres as "defined by its wankery"! (Ehi, what's "hippie funk"? :) )

 

You seem to imply that keyboard players are confined to piano or other percussive sounds. The nature of the attack on keyboards can be limiting, but only if you think in a traditional way. Nothing prevents you from using the keys for note choice only, the way a sax player fingers his note, then using the controllers to shape ALL aspects of the sound - including the attack. This takes time to master of course; I never said it was easy :)

 

The harmonic knowledge that comes (usually) with being a keyboardist should be used as an augmentation, not a substitute for expressive playing. Slurs and squeals you CAN do on a synth. It's just a different technique than just playing the keys. Keyboardists are used to divide (visually and mentally) the pitches in fixed segments... But if you think like a *singer*, you sound will sing too.

 

You asked for it... :D

 

Carlo

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Carlo, I asked for it, and I enjoyed it! (I might've even been playfully baiting you with some of my comments ;) If so, only because I love to "hear" you "talk" on these matters. My responses:

 

"Hippie Funk" is the somewhat derogatory name applied to the new wave of jam bands, many of who share culture with the deadheads, phish-heads, etc. Hippie funk is defined by extended groove jams, usually very organic instrumentation (Hammond over synths every time)and nominal commitment to song craft. In many cases the songs are kind of silly and goofy, more excuses for jams than anything else (see early Phish...). In other cases, however, there's some genuinely interesting composed instrumental music, owing to the likes of Zappa and Gentle Giant (also see early Phish...) Critics of hippie funk often claim that the practitioners miss the point of "true" funk, i.e., the minimalism of the individual parts, all the open spaces, and observe that, in the jam bands, all the players are full-funking out all of the time.

 

These are all big band generalizations, however. Much of what Steve LeBlanc does with Jam Free, for example, might be called Hippie Funk if it weren't so damn good and edgy. In any case, these jam bands are one the last, still-vital and viable bastions of the extended solo--and of ensemble improv in a rock setting.

 

Yes, advanced synth players like yourself have gone a long way toward breaking down the expresive obstacles of keyboard playing, but my question is have listeners really bought it? I don't mean commercially here. I mean, have listeners overcome the perception that expressive synth playing is still, at heart, a simulation of the "true" expression that can only come from the interaction of a player and the organic architecture and interface of an acoustic instrument? Are there really an *infinite* number of ways in which a well programmed performance synth patch can respond to your fingers? Is expression on synths as intuitive, unconscious, and serendipitous as it can be on acoustic instruments, or is expressivity on synths something highly calculated, even contrived?

 

My bias: I'm with the synth players, esp. since I've learned how unpredictable and interactive real-time controllers can actually be. It can be the same feeling of wrestling a living thing, and often losing control of it. So I concede to your point here, but are we a minority?

 

BTW, in my opinion, inferior improvised music is wanking, riff-toting, vain and egotistical. Superior improvisation is about the highest that music has to offer.

 

Originally posted by marino:

[i would have loved to answer point by point, but I'm on a different computer keyboard and in a hurry. So you have it:

 

Solo are increasingly rare in all genres, true. But we're speaking of all lead lines here, not necessarily improvised. And you shouldn't look at what's in the charts exclusively to decide what's right to play. I won't even comment on your idea of jazz and other genres as "defined by its wankery"! (Ehi, what's "hippie funk"? :) )

 

You seem to imply that keyboard players are confined to piano or other percussive sounds. The nature of the attack on keyboards can be limiting, but only if you think in a traditional way. Nothing prevents you from using the keys for note choice only, the way a sax player fingers his note, then using the controllers to shape ALL aspects of the sound - including the attack. This takes time to master of course; I never said it was easy :)

 

The harmonic knowledge that comes (usually) with being a keyboardist should be used as an augmentation, not a substitute for expressive playing. Slurs and squeals you CAN do on a synth. It's just a different technique than just playing the keys. Keyboardists are used to divide (visually and mentally) the pitches in fixed segments... But if you think like a *singer*, you sound will sing too.

 

You asked for it... :D

 

Carlo

Check out the Sweet Clementines CD at bandcamp
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Carlo...

 

Everything you said was right on. More than anything else I measure a keyboard by how much control I have over it's sounds. That is probably because I consider myself a lead synthesis more than a piano player.

 

But if you think like a *singer*, you sound will sing too.
This is a great technique if you hit a mental block while trying to come up with a solo. Just sing to yourself. Sort of scat and hum your way through, then go back and try to play that part on a synth. It is not always easy and you really need a light touch on the pitch bender to make it sound right, if you imagine a vocal part as done by a good vocalist that uses a lot of pitch slurs.

 

Robert

This post edited for speling.
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Originally posted by Tusker:

The keyboard seems to have been around forever and seems to consistently be an accompaniment instrument in popular music.

 

Would you agree with this observation?

Yes.

 

Why do you think it transpired this way?

Instruments like violin, sax, lead guitar better imitate the human voice.

 

Do you think it can/will change?

Yes.

 

What will change it?

Physical Modelling.
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Wow, very interesting thread....my thoughts....

 

Someone commented that keyboardist cant move around...well they could get the the Roland mobile unit, guitar keyboard, ya know, the one that was popular in the 80's. However, it is my belief that they would probably get laughed off stage....lol :)

 

I havent heard a lot of talk on this forum regarding progressive rock. With repsect I will be carefull what I say. I agree that some prog rock is way artsy fartsy, but what came to mind when reading the threads and comments was DREAM THEATER. There style is unique, and does take a while to get used to. Aside from changing beats, tempos, styles and rythms, through the course of a song, they also change lead roles. There are many keyboard solo's, sometime 2 or 3 a song, as well a guitar. There are also base and drum lead parts as well. I listen and never can guess what instrument will be playing lead next, it keeps you on your toes.

 

Another thing they do well, is duel lead parts. For example, guitar might be doing an assending semi-chromatic scale with the keyboard playing the appropriate harmony parts while assecnding, then the keyboard does a descending scale of some sort while the guitar harmonizes...very kewl. While this is indeed accompaniment, they both are doing leads....they also do entire bars of simultanious notes as solos, with all instruments (less the drums) doing the same notes. However, the drums are a major part of this style of music, and the drums also do parts, just not in the same way (with musical notes) that the othres do. Check it out.....

 

oh BTW, I have been wanting one of those roland portable keyboards for some time, but have been scared of being laughed at....:lol

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Much of what Steve LeBlanc does with Jam Free, for example, might be called Hippie Funk if it weren't so damn good and edgy.
YIKES...you almost did it...you almost catagorized us as JamBand...I'm happy you caught yourself :)

 

Unfortunately no matter what name I chose for our project it would still fail to describe us...so even though "JAMMING" is only a very small part of what we do (IMO)...we'll just have to deal with being called a JamBand sometimes. :) That's OK though...there's a nice group of listeners who follow that music, more listeners is good.

 

I agree that Bill Evans is about as good as it gets when it comes to keyboard improv...Keith Emerson and Chick Corea deserve props for pushing the lead capabilities of Synths...these guys were all heros to me when I grew up so my brain has a hard time finding anything wrong with playing that way. :)

 

I had to post here to make it very clear that I'm not trying to be a hippy JamBand...I just play music that isn't trying to fit into ANY mold...it's music...sometimes it resembles Country, Rock, Heavy Metal, Jazz, Prog., Classical, Folk, Pop, whatever...it comes from everything I've listened to in my short life...my CD collection is HUGE.

 

As a hired gun I'm as good at being the glue that holds the rhythm section together as anyone but when I'm free to do my thing...I often prefer to be the Jimi Hendrix of the keys...I wish more keyboardists were doing it.

 

:thu:

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I agree that one of the things that has led to this situation is something of our own doing. In the heydays of prog rock, the use of the synthesizer was groundbreaking with so many new creative sounds making their way into popular and rock music. Now we ourselves have let synth-playing fall into recreating flutes when there are not flutes, saxes when there is no sax, horns, strings, etc. The use of the synthesizer in popular and rock music for new, creative, and even unusual lead sounds has all but died in recent years.

 

The more I thought about this topic, another subject turned up: Keys are typically not lead instruments as discussed above, but neither are they used as solo instruments as often as they should be. It is commonplace to go to a concert, a bar, a church or anywhere music is played and see a solo singer playing his acoustic guitar for accompaniement. It is even rarer though to see a solo singer doing a solo show with only a piano for accompaniement (I know the spelling wrong--but I can't remember the right spelling). It is even the same for recordings of popular songs.

 

Has the piano actually been relegated to mere background music, or rythym section "glue"?--- no man's instrument for lead and solo playing?

 

I hope not. I also think artists like Alecia Keys (there is also another piano-playing girl singer out there now too--don't know her name though) are making great strides to bring the grand piano back into the forefront. We could all benefit from this. (But we do need another Emerson, Jerry Lee, Wakeman, Steve Walsh or other keyboard star desperately!)

 

Haven't heard any Dream Theatre yet but it sounds like I should. What is a recommended CD to check em out?

 

Just my $ .02

 

BD

"With the help of God and true friends I've come to realize, I still have two strong legs and even wings to fly" Gregg Allman from "Ain't Wastin Time No More"
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Well, I must warn you, it is quite different. They do many styles of music, if you want just instrumentals, pick up the Liquid Tension Experiements, there are 2 cd's. This is how Jordan Rudess got involved with DT. The thing I dislike about DT is their vocalist, who falls under the 80's voice style (high pitched). Me personally I like there new album, 6 degrees of inner turbluance. It is a 2 disc album, with everthing from heavy to slow, to classical and acoustic stylings. The whole second disc is 1 song that gets much of its influence from Jordan Rudess's classical back ground, if there was a classic meets rock, this would be it. DT is not for everyone, but me likes, and just want to share with you guys...let me know what you think....
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In a hurry again. Damn...

 

Originally posted by Magpel:

Carlo, I asked for it, and I enjoyed it! (I might've even been playfully baiting you with some of my comments ;)

I enjoyed reading what you have to say, too. Thanks.

I mean, have listeners overcome the perception that expressive synth playing is still, at heart, a simulation of the "true" expression that can only come from the interaction of a player and the organic architecture and interface of an acoustic instrument?

This is a matter of exposition. AND of the fact that 90% of synth players are, in fact, using their instruments in an imitative way. What can I say? I can only do what I love, hoping for the best. If we're lucky, the new generation of instruments will help develop a new generation of players, too. I always try to measure up my solo playing with some great acoustic soloist.

 

Are there really an *infinite* number of ways in which a well programmed performance synth patch can respond to your fingers?

To the fingers alone - no way. To fingers plus controllers - you bet! :)

Is expression on synths as intuitive, unconscious, and serendipitous as it can be on acoustic instruments, or is expressivity on synths something highly calculated, even contrived?

Mmm... Maybe you don't remember the first time you tried to blow in a trumpet, trying to play a few notes... It's not so immediate, it takes years of study to become spontaneous. The main problem here is the lack of some kind of standardization of controllers (actually, I'm not sure if it would be a good thing). If fronted with a "standard" interface, and specific exercises to master it, maybe the average keyboard player would approach lead playing with more convinction. BTW the tools are there already!

 

My bias: I'm with the synth players, esp. since I've learned how unpredictable and interactive real-time controllers can actually be. It can be the same feeling of wrestling a living thing, and often losing control of it. So I concede to your point here, but are we a minority?

Honestly, I don't know. Probably. But then again, I just love it, so that's what I do. Again, it's mainly a problem of public perception.

 

BTW, in my opinion, inferior improvised music is wanking, riff-toting, vain and egotistical. Superior improvisation is about the highest that music has to offer.

Right!

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I`m happy with the position I see the keyboard having, filling the holes in the music with concrete. Keys can lead sometimes, but just think of some of the real popular songs. Without keys filling the holes, adding ambience, etc, a pretty empty mix. Kcbass

 "Let It Be!"

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Originally posted by Magpel:

BTW, in my opinion, inferior improvised music is wanking, riff-toting, vain and egotistical. Superior improvisation is about the highest that music has to offer.

Uhhhh, OK. I guess all of us can consider ourselves either insulted or complimented, depending on how we interpret this. :D

 

--Dave

Make my funk the P-funk.

I wants to get funked up.

 

My Funk/Jam originals project: http://www.thefunkery.com/

 

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Originally posted by Dave Pierce:

Originally posted by Magpel:

BTW, in my opinion, inferior improvised music is wanking, riff-toting, vain and egotistical. Superior improvisation is about the highest that music has to offer.

Uhhhh, OK. I guess all of us can consider ourselves either insulted or complimented, depending on how we interpret this. :D

 

--Dave

Ha! Well, I believe we are all capable of both the high road and the low road. Frankly, I don't improvise much except as a compositional tool, and when I do jam, I find the temptation is great to trot out whatever tired old licks I've got stored away just to sound "hot" and to avoid genuine risk. That's what I mean by inferior improvisation--calculated to impress, and general not attuned to the spontaneous interplay of an ensemble.

 

Dave, I'm sure you rock. :D

Check out the Sweet Clementines CD at bandcamp
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A few thoughts related to the topic:

 

The B3/Leslie combo can be very expressive. The swell pedal allows the kinds of expressive volume changes on sustained notes you can get with a horn/voice. The Leslie on fast adds excitement/tension, slow speed releases it. The fact that the B3 percussion isn't triggered when played legato is yet another level of expression.

 

The first synths being monophonic was the best thing that could have happened. It forced keyboard players to think monophonically and to use the expressive controllers. If they had been polyphonic to begin with, players would have just applied their same playing techniques to synths, i.e. greesy organ licks, etc.

 

The Yamaha VL series synths are still remarkably expressive. The fact that the breath controller is an integral part of the instrument is key. I've tried BC with PCM/sampled synths and it's just not the same. BC forces you to phrase like a voice/horn (assuming you don't know how to do circular breathing).

 

In my book, a jazz piano trio is a very pure, complete musical entity.

 

Busch.

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Interesting thread with different points of view.

 

An observation:

Many of us are focusing on the expressive potential of the new round of modelling synths. Me included. :D

 

However, the points made about the B3 (and even piano trio) resonate for me. So I am beginning to think that expressiveness is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

 

Perhaps the willingness to play a number of musical roles, does work against the "keyboard as lead" role.

 

Also perhaps, we have not created a keyboard aesthetic. After all, what cultural values does the keyboard (or synthesizer) stand for?

 

Jerry

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IMO it's strictly about market acceptance. There are an amazing number of keyboard players who are adept soloists in many genres - jazz, classic rock, prog rock, funk, even pop. You just don't hear 'em on the radio anymore because they don't sell (this could be a chicken-&-egg scenario; bands such as ELP, Yes, and Deep Purple used to sell out stadiums and chart singles).

 

I happen to like solos which are "designed to impress". For centuries musicians have learned and displayed their knowledge of the "tricks of the trade"; when did this become such an evil thing? Even the most nuanced players occasionally toss a gratuitous chunk of known music into their solos. And eventually, if you are not playing stuff the audience can identify with you will no longer have an audience. Then you can do all the "truly expressive playing" you want to yourself - isn't that also one possible definition of wanking? To say "only the best, most creative should be allowed" invalidates the work of the overwhelming majority of players. Sometimes, even those with limited vocabularies have something worthwhile to say. AND you don't develop that vocabulary unless you use it....

I used to think I was Libertarian. Until I saw their platform; now I know I'm no more Libertarian than I am RepubliCrat or neoCON or Liberal or Socialist.

 

This ain't no track meet; this is football.

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Coyote, I respect that POV. I like a lot of impressive players too, though not foremost because they're impressive. We're all going to define and respond to musicality differently. Perhaps you hear genuine spirit in artistry in something that sounds like so much blazing hot air to me. My own tastes run towarrd very articulate solists, thougn not necessarily fast ones. John Scofield on Guitar. Bill Evans or Paul Bley on piano. I apologize if I was presenting my idiosyncratic tastes as universal precepts (I have been guilty of that before). ;)
Check out the Sweet Clementines CD at bandcamp
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Don;t mean to slow down the "wanking versus soul" debate. Please have at it. I enjoy it. I have strong feelings on both sides of the issue. ;):D

 

But ...

 

I suspect the "wanking versus soul" debate is a red herring.

 

First, the question of wanking is for all instruments....not just keyboards. Secondly lead instruments aren't necessarily just about taking the solo but about other kinds of melodic meaning.

 

Here's an example. There are lots of idioms (country, pop, etc), where you have a solo voice with a guitar playing a counterpoint around it. Person takes a breath, guitar twangs something.

 

To be fair, that kind of call and answer is also done with piano accompaniment.

 

But isn't it interesting that there's no corresponding idiom that might involve a synth?

 

Cheers,

 

Jerry

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Originally posted by Magpel:

That said, what could possibly be better and more difficult than the harmonic possibilities available to the advanced keyboard improviser? Nothing, that's what. So what may be lacking in articulation is more than made up for in harmony. More than with any other instrument, keyboard improvisation really is spontaneous composition involving all the elements of music, IMO, which is why a Bill Evans sits atop the world of improv in my book. I honestly improvising well is probably harder on keyboards than other instruments--in the absence of the ability to slur and squeal properly, you actually have to be interesting and eloquent

 

Er, okay. I'm done.

A few points in support of the above (mostly as it relates to jazz-style playing).

 

It used to be common place for jazz pianists to play the final chorus(es) of their solo using block chords or Bill Evans block chords (octave in right hand, rootless voicings in the left). This was done to build intensity. Point being, they took advantage of the unique characteristics of the piano (being polyphonic and percussive) to achieve intensity and bring the solo to a climax.

 

Lately I've been listening to Herbie Hancock's 1982 Quartet CD. This is an acoustic setting. It struck me how incredibly rich his vocabulary is, not as much the single line blowing but more with his intricate two handed ideas. Things like contrary motion and other clearly two handed motifs abound in his soloing. Point is, you've got two hands, use them.

 

When a jazz pianist solos he's generally still comping behind his blowing. The beauty is that the comping is linked directly to the blowing. Play a two measure lead line, the left hand fills the pause between that phrase and the next perfectly. Need to support some outside playing with the harmonic basis for your ideas? Easy, slam down the chord, then resolve it (or not). Done expertly, this can create create a wonderfully tight sound. Note: jazz organists do this all the time as well with the interaction with the left hand bass lines.

 

Bottomline, play to your strengths not your weaknesses.

 

Busch.

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Busch:

 

Point well taken about playing to strengths.

 

Here's another thought in that vein. We tend to hold the buman voice up as an epitome of beauty and personality. Then we wake up one morning and say how beautiful the bird sounds are. We go to the zoo, the lion roars and little kids rush to hide behind their parents. They know what it means. Or there is a thunderstorm and suddenly the kids are in your room.

 

Evoking feelings is what music is about. It's about making meaning out of sound. The difference between a cheezy synth thunderstorm and a synth solo that roars like thunder is the difference between "representing" and "evoking." One is imitation, the other is expression. We don't have to imitate the human voice. It's just one of the ways. When was the last time you heard a vocoder solo that spoke in human terms to you?

 

Jerry

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