It was a privilege to be among the instructors for the Boot Camp sessions offered as part of CMS Northwest 2013. What a treat to have a full day to share with keyboard players! I had a great time spending the day with seven talented musicians, all determined to grow in their grasp of modern worship keyboard style. Thanks to Mike Overlin and the Yamaha Corporation each of the players had their own keyboard to play. Throughout the day the concepts I shared went from merely ideas to things the players could each try for themselves. There’s nothing like making that connection between hearing a concept described and experiencing what it feels like to play it yourself.
One of the things that seemed to most resonate with the people in the Boot Camp was the use of a common tone or droning note. Whether you’re creating a part to be played on acoustic piano or using a pad or organ sound, find a note that sits well in the chord progression of your song and make that note the highest note you play with your right hand. Let’s say you’re in the key of G, and the progression you’re playing is G C Em7 D. That’s a 1 4 6 5, by the way.
Together with everyone at the Keyboard Boot Camp we analyzed these chords searching for a note all chords share. By overlaying “color chords” heard often in modern worship songs, we saw that a G could be that top note. You’re right if you observe that the note G is not part of a D chord. The G can sound great, though, by viewing the D chord as a Dadd4. That chord does have a G in it and it’s a color chord that’s regularly used in modern arrangements.
Another note that can work well is the D. Again, you may look at the chord progression and recognize that the C chord doesn’t contain a D. Another of the popular “color chords” is the 2 chord. By playing the C chord as a C2 the note D does fit the chord. Notice that the 3rd of the C chord, E, is omitted when playing the C2. The notes of this chord are C D G compared the C E G of a regular C chord.
Everyone got a sense of how this felt under their own fingers by playing a simple repetitive pattern like this with their right hand. Then they played a single G, C, E or D below it on the downbeat of each measure. Here’s a transcription of the right hand pattern:
That sound featuring an unyielding note at the top of an 8th note pattern like this is heard a lot these days. You could also let the note D be the top note of this figure and adapt the other notes accordingly. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a worship set on piano by yourself or are part of a rhythm section with drums, bass and guitars; these concepts can help you contribute keyboard parts that blend well with what the other musicians are contributing. Be sure and discuss these color chord concepts with your team as well; encourage your guitarists to work at getting comfortable with the add4 chord in the key of the song you’re playing, as well as considering the option of making some chords a 2 chord, as we did here with the C chord.
Click the links below to download some of the handouts that relate to what I shared with the people in the Boot Camp.