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Help a guitarist with the basics on keys


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Ive been playing guitar for a few years now and got Cubase about a year ago for recording guitar with bass and drum tracks. I play pop/rock in the style of Coldplay, Stones, Santana, U2, Fleetwood Mac, Natalie Merchant, Prince, etc. While learning how to use Cubase, I found out about VSTs and was blown away by what is available. I got a controller keyboard and have been collecting a variety of instruments and sounds. Ive been working on adding various piano, Rhodes, organ, string, and synth pad tracks to my recordings.


Although MIDI is cool because you can fix all your mistakes (and record the right and left hand separately), I would like to become more proficient at actually playing the keyboard. So to start, what are you guys typically doing when playing accompaniment on pop/rock style tunes? Here are some of the comping approaches Ive been fooling around with:


- Playing chords with the right hand and bass line with the left. This is what a lot of the sheet music Ive seen seems to point to. But if you already have a bass in the song, do you really need the keyboard to double it? Some instrument types, like synth pads, dont work so well like this.


- Playing chords with the left hand and a melody line with the right hand. This is basis of Scott the Piano Guy Houstons entire teaching program. This works well for solo piano, but less so when there are other melody instruments or vocals in the mix.


- Playing chords with both hands. This is the church organ approach, right? While this sounds cool on big fat synth pads, Im curious how often you guys would actually be doing this.


- Just playing chords with one hand. It seems like you can do a lot with just one-handed chords coupled with a few well-placed embellishments and fills.


Maybe you guys can break down typical comping approaches by instrument type or song type. Thanks in advance for taking your time with a keys newbie!

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Great question...one with lots of answers. Of course, the bottom line is to do what sounds best to you, and is the most stylistically appropriate for the piece.


That being said, many individuals have their own style.


Right hand: since the vocalist usually has the melody, I may be playing some chord or rhythmic figure (e.g. Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams", or the early part of Santana's "Evil Ways"), or if there is a nice piano or organ part, of course, I'll be doing that (e.g. Lonestar's "Amazed", or the b3 on "When a man loves a woman"). Sometimes I'll play a part that doubles what a rhythm guitarist would play (e.g. ZZ top's "Sharp Dressed Man"), maybe using a poly-synth sound or over-driven hammond sound instead of trying to copy the guitarists' sounds.


Left Hand: choice of bassline-reinforcing figure, playing the bassline (when our bassist takes a turn on trumpet), or sometimes nothing.


Usually, I'm covering about 2 or 3 different instrumental parts with various splits and combinations mapped out on the keys, so it really varies from song to song.


P.S.: We play everything live - no sequencers, arpegiators, or backing tracks....I really only use midi sequencing when I'm at home in the project studio.

Tom F.

"It is what it is."

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The most basic, and maybe what sounds the best in sequencing, is playing just a close chord with one of your hands. Unless you're playing a typical pianosong, a simple chord will do the job. My motto is to keep it simple.


Good luck!

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Listen to the music that you are using as influences. What does it do?


Pads will be played differently than piano, which will be played differently than Rhodes, and differently than organ.


If your question was - which of these ways do you normally play - I would say that with a band, I normally play chords with tha right and keep out of the way with my left. But each song is different.


(also, when I play solo piano(at home - I don't play solo out) I play bass with left hand and chords and flurishes with the right.

I'm just saying', everyone that confuses correlation with causation eventually ends up dead.
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Welcome to the forum Brig.


First there is no complete rule. It will vary depending on the number of other players there are, as well as the style. If you are playing solo you can use combinations of LH bass/RH chords or lead lines, or LH chords/RH lead. I combine usually giving the bass line a run through and then people think it is still there when you comp LH/RH lead.


Generally you don't want to mess with a bass line when there is a bass player. But there are moments in Swing/boogie woogie that it works.


It is something you have to listen too others and figure out.


Remeber less is more.



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




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As a long time guitar player learning keys, I'm also in the same boat. While I'm always trying to better my playing, I've found tools such as Band In A Box or Jammer Professional to be great tools for adding key parts to tracks. You can add your chords, choose a style, and the programs will generate MIDI keyboard parts for your songs. You could then tweak the parts if you want to.


In the meantime, it's back to practicing.

A Jazz/Chord Melody Master-my former instructor www.robertconti.com


(FKA GuitarPlayerSoCal)

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Try to learn some chord voicings with both hands so you can do them comfortably with either. Then when playing with a bass player you can comp with your left hand and fill with your right and when there's no bass you can comp with your right hand and play bass with the left.


When playing with a guitarist you can comp with both hands. One trick is to thin the chords out more - play two notes with each hand, for example. It leaves room for the guitarist. Take the 3 and 7 with the right hand and the 1 and 5 with the left.


The key to comping on piano is voice leading - even more so than on guitar. You want to do voice leading things within the chords, not just on the changes (assuming the changes are not hugely fast, of course)

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GPSoCal, Interesting tip on using Band in a Box or Jammer. I hadn't thought about using this kind of software for learning how to do keyboard arrangements. Sounds like you've used both. Which one do you feel comes up with the better arrangements for the kind of pop/rock keyboard parts we're talking about?


BTW, I live in the OC too.

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I've used both BIAB and Jammer Pro (Soundtrek). BIAB is a very deep program...there are a million options. Jammer is also quite good, but easier to use IMO. There is a larger online community for everything BIAB related.


For your purposes, you wouldn't go wrong with either one. For what I want to do, Jammer Pro works for me. If you're willing to put in the time and practice with BIAB, it has a lot of options.


Here's a way to think about it. If you prefer to use rack units, go with BIAB. If you're a pedals only type of guy (simplicity), go with Jammer Pro. :D


Also remember that with either program you can export MIDI files and use in other sequencing/audio programs like Sonar to further add audio tracks (although BIAB lets you record audio now, I still prefer to use other programs.)


They're both great tools. I think you'll enjoy using either one.

A Jazz/Chord Melody Master-my former instructor www.robertconti.com


(FKA GuitarPlayerSoCal)

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Brig, in answer to your original question. What style do I use? All of the above depending on the song. The same way when I'm sequencing. I'll play the bass line with a bass sound, and adjust the performance for other parts depending on what sound I choose.

All of the advice given so far is very sound. The ultimate answer to your question is what sounds good to you.


And eveything I play onstage is Live, no sequences. More fun that way.

"In the beginning, Adam had the blues, 'cause he was lonesome.

So God helped him and created woman.


Now everybody's got the blues."


Willie Dixon






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