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Organ: sustain chords vs riffs


Jazz1642606857

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When playing organ with a rock band or in general...

 

Questions:

 

1) Can you estimate what percent of the time you are playing sustain chords and what percent of the time you are playing riffs (short melodic ideas or motives) in the accompaniment?

 

2) What influences your choice of either texture?

Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and also helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book." 

Harry teaches jazz piano online using Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, or Google Meet.

 

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My current percentage would be

Chords 70%

Riffs 30%

 

Based on a thread I posted here a while back I am working on upping the riff ratio. I got a little too cozy in being a keyboard player using the organ as yet another patch. I am starting to concentrate more on being more of a pure organist and adding creative parts to a lot of our tunes.

I experiment with various techniques from my organ retetoire which will add something new to the tune without taking away from the basic groove of the tune.

I would certainly appreciate some examples of what others are doing in this area.

Steve

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I would say the distinction is more along the lines of: how much harmony do you want to play (how many notes simultaneously), and how fast-paced your melodic ideas are. I try to play melodic ideas all the time, they are just more slow paced when the singer is singing, and faster and punchier when she's taking a breath.

 

Dunno what you mean by "sustain" chords; are you trying to make a distinction between stacatto versus legato chording?

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Playing with a R&B band - that would be Junior's Roadhouse All-Stars - I try to do what fits the song. There's not really a percentage, but I chord more than I play riffs or patterns. A lot of times the organ is doing the "opposite," that is if the guitar, sax, whatever is soloing or playing something complicated as a section, you are laying a base for them to play a lot of notes over 'sustained chords.' It can get to riffs if you need to drive the beat or carry a section of the tune or add interest in the background. The guitar and I trade riffs - fours - even in some spots. Then you have tunes' signature riffs that the organ is expected to play. If the rest of the band is playing chords smoothly you may riff behind that or play a pattern, but you have to be careful not to detract. You do not want to double any of the other instruments unless that's the way the song is written or purposely arranged. I guess the rule is to try to make the song sound better, not just draw attention. If you are not careful you you can make the tune choppy or bland with the wrong choice. I'm running out of ways to explain this and it's hard to discuss this concept without playing while I talk!!
"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
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I've never played in an exclusively blues or R&B band, but every band I've played in, has played their fair share of that kind of material. If there's a spot to be filled, and nobody else is filling, I'll take it. But I try not to be too busy. I'm mostly afraid of clashing with what the other players in the band are doing. But I chord more than I riff.

Steve

 

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I do some sustain, some melody and some rhythmic comping. Probably about 32% in each of those areas, with the remaining 4% being sonic weirdness - slaps and smears using odd drawbars and so forth.

 

I do sustained organ pads on slower songs and find that I do melody on more up-tempo stuff, often in sync with the horn lines or in harmony with them. Rythmic comping is good on funk tunes (e.g. Tower of Power) and also reggae, in which you "bubble" between two manuals playing different sounds, sometimes doing the offbeat organ chops or also playing melodies at the same time.

 

The sonic weirdness occurs during extended vamps or behind a drum feature to accentuate the rhythm with something growly and different.

 

Regards,

Eric

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I agree with Daviel -- I generally try to counterpoint (or too often, compensate) for what the guitarists are doing (which is usually too much). Most of my playing these days is at blues jams, though -- which explains why the guitarists are overplaying.

 

For recordings (which is pretty much the only other music I do these days), I generally like to add Hammond very late in the game, so I can foreshadow themes that will appear later, underscore the dynamics, echo lines in leads, and lots of other fun little tricks. And the guitarists usually dig the fact that someone actually listened to their tracks. ;)

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Dynamics are important when it comes to Hammond organ technique. It needs to be a give and take with the other band members.

 

I probably most often chord with right hand, and pick up bass notes with left (and pedals, too). But sometimes single note or two notes will suffice. With a Hammond, take advantage of the built-in volume robbing of the manual wiring. This means that the volume of 1-2 notes will be almost as loud as full chords.

Hammond T-582A, Casio WK6600, Behringer D
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I play regularly in a trio with vocalist. The others are always on me to do more pads and strings, etc. The point is they like it when something is filling in the cracks. When you think of most rock band with guitars, bass, drums, keys, everything is essentially percussive. Using the organ to fill the cracks with sustained chords can really help smooth things out. The advantage of organ over strings and pads is that the swell/expression pedal is an intergral component, so you can make the background much more dynamic and instantly respond to what you hear going on.

 

Busch.

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Playing in both a 5pc band with 2 guitarist and a 4pc band with 1 guitarist. I find myself playing lots of rhythm chops opposite or following guitar chops. I too fill when there is a space particularly after the 1st verse or let the guitar take one then I take it. Riffs are used sparingly to add sweetness. Blues allows more space for riffs. Sustained chords I use for slow songs and some bridges to fatten them and at the end of a song as a crescendo.

Jimmy

 

Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others. Groucho

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Hmmm,,

 

The line may be a little fuzzy on that one. When I play "Chords" I almost never play a triad and hold it for 4 beats! There's some sort of "riff" employed in the comping. The only time I'll hold a long sustained chord is if the song specifically calls for it (ie. begining of Free Bird) but that never lasts for too long. I just can't stand it for more than a verse.

 

That said, I am probably playing chords the majority of the time (90% or more) since any song where I have a melody line (solo or riff)it only lasts a few (albeit glorious) seconds.

 

DRD

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I only use organ for portions of songs, and I spend most of my time holding chords and adjusting the Leslie speed. If I'm not adjusting that, I'm layering the organ with a synth pad in my other hand. I also do a lot of glissandos (can't really do any smears on a weighed board) and quick lines to add interest. Maybe 10-25% of the time I'll play some arpeggios in sync with a synth lead on my other hand, or just playing more percussively. Most of the instruments I play with are percussive in nature, so playing drawn-out stuff does tend to fill space more effectively.
A picture may paint a thousand words, but a melody can paint a thousand pictures.
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Jazz+,

We do rock and blues covers, lots of Allmans, Stevie Ray etc. What I have learned is that you have to find a balance. Laying down the sonic mortar to fill in the cracks is an important contribution to the overall character of the band's sound. You will have your moments to shine, and during those moments you may stand out a little more if you've previously kept a lower profile. It depends on the song of course. We play "Bertha" by the Dead, boring as far as keyboards and I take no solo, but I get a kick out of laying down shimmering high sustain chords and using the expression pedal. It adds so much. We do "Come On" by SRV, and it is rhythmic comping and I get a solo where I get a chance to rip. We do Allman's "You Don't Love Me" where I do rhythmic comping and also play the signature lick and also get a solo chance.

 

It all depends, but it is just as important to lay back and provide the sustain to fill in the cracks, as it is to comp, as it is to play your wicked solos during your moment in the spotlight.

Regards,

Joe

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Originally posted by Jazz+:

When playing organ with a rock band or in general...

 

Questions:

 

1) Can you estimate what percent of the time you are playing sustain chords and what percent of the time you are playing riffs (short melodic ideas or motives) in the accompaniment?

 

2) What influences your choice of either texture?

J+, you never told us what you do when playing organ. Please share your answers to these questions!

 

Regards,

Eric

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Originally posted by daviel:

Playing with a R&B band -

Seems an excellent summary. A few more ideas:

 

You can largely influence the excitement/relaxation level just by playing in the background - pull out a few drawbars or start the Leslie and the energy level goes up. Do the reverse and it goes down. Helps keep the band from becoming too one-dimensional.

 

Another technique - alter chord density. You can start with 3 note chords (7/3/5 is good). You can wind that back to just the 3 and 7, or even just one of them (single not organ can be quite tasty and very layed back)

 

Or you can go to playing 4 note voicings (7/9/3/5 or even 7/9/3/13 if you want to drive the energy along - use the 13 sparingly though)

 

But the other thing you can do that is not metioned in your original question is to play rythm. Short stabs in rythmic patterns (with or without percussion - or even with nothing but percussion) can really funk. Try alternating the hands - playing two handed paradiddles and the like.

 

One more thing when playing chords - the key to the whole thing is voice leading.

 

One nice technique is to play a single chordal note line with your left hand in the same octave (on the lower manual) as a chord you are playing with your right and do nice voice leading things with that line as well as the top line of the right hand. You want to play lots of thirds and occasionaly 5s and 7s there - not just roots.

 

You can also do little voice leading things with your thumb underneath sustained chords.

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Originally posted by Byrdman:

Originally posted by daviel:

One more thing when playing chords - the key to the whole thing is voice leading.

Yeah, this is of major importance for me when I choose to play organ.

 

When I use organ in my songs (Latin-tinged smooth jazz, or smoothed-out Latin jazz, depending on your preference), it's a specific color; I play other keyboard sounds as well. And when I use organ, I usually play something that is adding a texture or counterpoint to the guitar melody (we're an instrumental band, no vocals). In this application, as has been mentioned, the line between "riffs" and "chords" blurs often, and two components are very important: the leading note/melodic movement, and the density of notes. Going from one to two to three notes sustained, and the melodic approach to get there, has a big impact when organ is just one color or flavor that you are using. With such "minimalist" use of organ sounds, I find I have to be selective to play tasty.

 

In contrast, I used to be in a Latin rock band doing Greg Rolie parts (or parts like that in original material), and I don't recall feeling that I had to be as discriminating about voicings in that style, because it called for almost always sustaining full chords! There were certainly leading notes and rhythmic elements to be concerned about, but organ was more a steady presence, and less a color I had to concentrate on making as tasty as possible because of its minimal use as is the case now.

 

Other than sustained-type stuff, I do the rhythmic stuff Byrdman and Eric noted: slapping the keys, glisses ... fun colors for the musical palette.

Original Latin Jazz

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"I am not certain how original my contribution to music is as I am obviously an amateur." Patti Smith

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