Looking for examples of a keyboard style.
February 25, 2012 2:34 PM   Subscribe

There's a keyboard solo technique used in funky, upbeat tunes that is based on simple, high-pitch synthesizer chords, played really fast. I don't remember any specific tunes with this technique, but I'm thinking of 80s bands like the Commodores, for some reason. Can anybody help me find examples and maybe some theory so I can emulate it? Probably involves some pitch bend, too.
posted by circular to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
OK, I think I found an example that comes pretty close.

Question is then: What is some commercial music with solo keyboard similar to this?
posted by circular at 2:45 PM on February 25, 2012

Check out the solo in IGY- Donald Fagen
posted by kimdog at 3:17 PM on February 25, 2012

He's using the mod wheel mapped to pitch to give it some vibrato, but I think that's basically a standard brass-y preset from a retro synth..
posted by empath at 3:24 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

At 2:30 in Get Off My Case- Comateens
posted by kimdog at 3:25 PM on February 25, 2012

Hm, I really wish I could put this into words, because there's this simple chord progression during the solo that the video doesn't really demonstrate. Ahh, it's killing me.

kimdog, the part from Get Off My Case is really close, like a caricature of what I'm looking for.
posted by circular at 3:27 PM on February 25, 2012

Are you looking for an arpeggiator?
posted by empath at 3:30 PM on February 25, 2012

Here is somebody doing a solo of the type you might be thinking of. They are using a pitch bender as well, I think, some degree of glissando which means that the notes slide from one pitch to another. Back in the day this would probably be played on a Mini Moog. Example: Herbie Hancock "Ready or Not".

Here is something more polyphonic played on late 70s and early 80s Roland Jupiter 4. Again pitch bend - but in this case I believe the play is using the two oscillators on the keyboard tuned a fifth apart. Some of the effect of rapid chord block changes seem to have been caused by the player working with the limits of the keyboard's polyphony (4 voices at once I believe) so as to give some rapid transition effects.
posted by rongorongo at 4:32 PM on February 25, 2012

No, this is solo keyboard technique, very flashy, very organic compared to an arpeggiator's job.
posted by circular at 4:37 PM on February 25, 2012

rongorongo, thanks for those links. Here's how what I'm thinking of compares to:

Funky synth solo video: What I'm thinking of is generally shorter, played using simple chords rather than monophonic-style, and a sharper waveform, not quite so rounded and soft-toned.

Jupiter 4 video: What I'm thinking of is higher-pitched and much faster, plus shorter. I feel like I've never heard what I'm thinking of for much longer than a few bars.

So far I suspect I'm looking for a technique or style that came from one famous song and then was mimicked in other songs as a sign of respect or something like that. Still digging through my own music to find an example, too.
posted by circular at 4:56 PM on February 25, 2012

OK, here's the closest I've got for now. I think the waveform / texture is actually *really* close to this sample. However, the sound I'm thinking of is probably a slightly different type of chord and is quite a bit faster. Still, same setting--really funky music, nice tight groove.
posted by circular at 5:02 PM on February 25, 2012

Just sent a message to the guy who performed that clip, maybe he'll have some ideas.
posted by circular at 5:05 PM on February 25, 2012

Sounded like a high trill to me.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:16 PM on February 25, 2012

Yes, IIRC the trill is a necessary ingredient in the sound I'm thinking of.
posted by circular at 5:34 PM on February 25, 2012

Seconding mod wheel - this is a standard funk synthesizer technique.
posted by modernserf at 7:31 PM on February 25, 2012

This sound is all over Prince's early 80s stuff, obviously -- might be worth looking at the old gear list for Paisley Park for ideas.
posted by anildash at 8:07 PM on February 25, 2012

Maybe you're thinking of something by Parliament?
posted by bink at 12:01 AM on February 26, 2012

Funkadelic - (Not Just) Knee Deep of course
Appolonia 6 - Sex Shooter similar
NYC Peech Boys - Dance Sister subtly
Locksmith - Unlock the Funk maybe
posted by rhizome at 5:27 AM on February 26, 2012

My first instinct after listening to the various samples is that this is firmly in Bernie Worrell territory - like maybe he even invented this style. Similar stuff is all over his work with P-Funk and the Talking Heads.

I think the "chords-as-short-solos" thing is derived from gospel organ playing, so maybe dig into that music for the roots of what you're looking for.

Soundwise my gut reaction would be to say it's a sawtooth waveform with high resonance, and nthing the use of the pitch-bend wheel to add vibrato at the end of phrases or whenever a chord is held. If you're using a physical keyboard it could also be an "aftertouch" function - the vibrato is pre-set but only kicks in if you press the keys slightly harder.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:58 AM on February 26, 2012

It seems to me that what the OP is looking for is specifically the use of a mod wheel to add pitch vibrato to the sound. In the clips, people are adding vibrato to one whole sustained note, and not adding vibrato to the shorter notes around it. In the pretty close video you can see the player using the pitch wheel repeatedly on certain notes, but IME it is more normal for people to use the mod wheel in order to use a sin LFO to modulate oscillator pitch.
posted by ianhattwick at 11:58 AM on February 26, 2012

It's funny how many similarities there are between the keyboard in something like Parliament's "Liquid Sunshine" (which has some elements of what you're talking about, though it's a bit more bubbly) and the synths in video games like Sonic the Hedgehog. Check this out—it's got the pitch-bending and vibrato, though not the chords. Looks like there are keyboards that pitch-bend on the basis of key pressure?
posted by limeonaire at 12:10 PM on February 26, 2012

Or maybe I'm just not seeing something—maybe that keyboard has pitch bends mapped to the foot pedal?
posted by limeonaire at 12:17 PM on February 26, 2012

it's got the pitch-bending and vibrato, though not the chords. Looks like there are keyboards that pitch-bend on the basis of key pressure?

Yeah, you can just use an LFO to automatically do it.
posted by empath at 12:20 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

OK, I have found the exact sound I was looking for. It's just from the wrong source. This is from some relatively unknown video game remix. I'm pretty sure this exact sound and type of riff has been (subconsciously or consciously) ripped right out of popular music. Now I just need to find out what popular song or songs I am thinking of.

So, while everything else has felt like it belongs in the same neighborhood, I'm pretty sure that the riff in my head is about 95% similar--in every way--to the sample I posted.
posted by circular at 3:02 PM on February 26, 2012

Incidentally, if anyone could identify the notes being played in that clip, I would really like to transcribe it and learn from it.
posted by circular at 3:08 PM on February 26, 2012

Those are horns loaded into a sampling synth.
posted by empath at 3:20 PM on February 26, 2012

Thanks, I'm sure it'd sound just as great through a synth--but now that I'm this close, and I have samplers and synths here, my main interest now is where I put my fingers to recreate the sound!
posted by circular at 7:56 PM on February 26, 2012

I guess I'll slow it down and have a play, see if I can really nail it. Still, hard for me to hear the individual notes in those chords.
posted by circular at 7:56 PM on February 26, 2012

« Older Where do you keep your emergency fund?   |   Consistent Volume on mac? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.