In this article we're going to take a look at Africa by Toto, one of the biggest rock hits of all-time by one of the greatest rock bands of all-time. We're going to get into a few very specific keyboard issues using this great tune as our example. Topics will include finding important sounds, programming, and splitting the keyboard. Africa by Toto is a great rock keyboard tune to add to your repertoire, so if you want all the tips and pointers to really master this classic tune, check out our full lesson.
Ok, so here's the good news about being a keyboard player in a rock cover band - YOU are responsible for covering more than just the keyboard parts. And here's the bad news - YOU are RESPONSIBLE for covering more than just the keyboard parts. That means it's your job to cover the essential instrument sounds that you probably don't have in your band. That includes things such as strings, organs, maybe horns, and... bottle blower. Yup, in Africa there's a pretty iconic bottle blower sound that really needs to be played. So guess whose job it is to play it?
Well, since it's your job as the keyboard player to cover these various sounds, you need to be familiar with the available sounds (often referred to as patches) on your synth. Step one in this process is really to actively listen to the tune and become very familiar with it before ever playing a note. Memorize things like the the meter, tempo, form, sections, and start to make notes of things that are important to play and things that are less essential. Remember, in a live setting a typical 5-piece rock band usually can't play everything from the record. As the keyboardist, you need to make decisions about what to play, and what you need to discard. As mentioned above, Africa by Toto pretty much requires two sounds at minimum - acoustic piano and a bottle blower sound. So find those sounds and store them side-by-side on your synth.
"Splitting" the keyboard refers to programming your keyboard so that one section of keys sound like one sound (acoustic piano, perhaps) and another section of keys sounds like a second sound (bottle blower). And many keyboards allow you to split your keyboard three or four times to allow for multiple sounds. Why would you do this? A couple reasons actually. First, as the keyboardist you may need to play two sounds simultaneously, one sound in your left hand and another in your right. Or, as is the case in Africa, you may need to quickly jump from one sound to another, meaning you don't have time to physically press a button and change sounds. Every keyboard is a little different, but "splitting" is a very common keyboard tool so it's a fairly simple process.
So get learnin' this classic and try to cover both the piano and bottle blower parts. We'll leave you with an assist on that bottle blower part (hint: it's voiced in fourths).