Funky chord tricks refer to some of the slick, pro-sounding passing chords that can be used to improve the sound of your playing. These chords often make students stop and ask "Wait - what was that you just played?!" Often these chords sound too advanced or complex for intermediate students, but in truth these chords only sound difficult. In practice, they can be quite easy to learn, practice, and play. In this article we'll show you a simple chord trick - referred to as planing - and show you some examples of this trick in practice.

Funky Chord Tricks: Planing Example 1 (Easy)

Planing is a simple concept. In advanced music theory, a lot of time is often spent on chord substitutions, tritone substitutions, altered upper extensions, etc. But planing avoids all of that.  It refers to the idea of moving an entire chord up or down by a half-step. That's the key - movement by half-step. Why might you want to do this? You might want to use planing as a simple yet effective way to get from one chord to the next.

Let's check out an example. Below we have a basic and easy chord progression.

funky chord tricks 1

Notice that the chords move simply on downbeats. The Em7 chord in measure 1 moves to Dm7 in measure 2. In between these two chords we will add a passing chord, an Ebm7 chord. Inserting this passing chord is referred to as "planing" because we are moving from Em7 to Dm7 by half-step. In order to do this, we simply bring all of the notes in the Em7 chord down by half-step (to Ebm7), and then down by half-step again (to Dm7). We also can add a little bit of rhythm to spice things up a bit.

 

funky chord tricks 2

Funky Chord Tricks: Planing Example 2 (Moderate)

In this example we'll take the same chord progression as above and tweak it a bit further, still using the same idea of planing. In the above example we used only one planing chord (the Ebm7 chord). In the example below we will again use planing, but this time we will plane up and then down to the target chord of Dm7. Again, notice that we are maintaining the original Em7 chord shape and moving it up and then down by half-step to the target chord (Dm7).

funky chord tricks 3

Do you hear how much more advanced this chord progression sounds simply by adding these planing chords, moving the original Em7 chord up and then down by half-step, on its way to the target Dm7 chord?

Funky Chord Tricks: Planing Example 3 (Challenging)

This last example combines this idea of planing (sliding chords up or down by half-step) with a subtle but effective chord change. The starting chord is Em7, and the target chord is still the Dm7 chord in measure 2. But now we will put a 'G' in the bass for all of measure 2. This creates a Dm7/G chord (which is really a G7sus4 chord). We will now plane a series of chords up to this G7sus4 chord to create a funky, advanced sound:

funky chord tricks 4

"Synthesizer basics" refers to knowing the particular aspects of the synthesizer, why it's used, and how it's different from a typical keyboard or piano. At first glance it might seem like the synthesizer and the piano are basically the same instrument, right? Well, they certainly do look similar in terms of the black and white keys, and there are some similarities. But there many differences in terms of how and why it is used. In this article we're going to focus on some of the particular things that a synth player needs to know in order to play the instrument effectively.

Synthesizer Basics - Know Thy Sounds!

Perhaps the biggest reason a funk, rock, or pop musician plays a synth is because he/she needs access to a variety of sounds (sometimes called "patches"). There are many different keyboard instruments - piano, Rhodes, Wurli, organ, clavinova - but unless you have a rock-star budget and a moving van, you're not going to own all of these instruments. You're going to use a synth which allows you to play ONE instrument that contains all of these sounds.

Synth players frequently play a variety of other sounds, too. For example, it's incredibly common to have a synth player play string, brass, woodwind, percussion, or synth (electronic) sounds. For obvious reasons, synth players need to be adept at quickly locating these sounds on their keyboard (referred to as programming) and know how to play them effectively (meaning, convincingly - more on that in a moment).

Synthesizer Basics - When Are These Sounds Needed?

The answer here is - ALL THE TIME! Live concerts, radio performances, musical theater productions, recording studios, film scoring, cover bands, educational institutions... the list goes on and on.

But "why," you might ask, "don't these venues simply hire REAL string or horn players?" There are many reasons:

  1. Every production has a budget. And every additional musician means more people to pay. Synths have the ability to create huge orchestral sounds and require only one player. That's a big cost saver (and good news for us keyboardists, I suppose).
  2. Practically speaking, an entire string section needs someplace to sit. Have you ever been to a musical theater production? They don't call it "the pit" (where the orchestra musicians perform) for nothing. Synth players save space (which also costs money).
  3. Synths sound great. The technology has advanced so much that synths sound virtually identical to many of the instruments they mimic.
  4. Synths make programming (saving sounds and adding effects) very easy. Playing the synth is a combination of playing a piano instrument and having some computer-related knowledge.

Synthesizer Basics - Capturing the Essence

Since synths are so good at sounding like the instrument they are copying (strings, for example), it's up to the player to know how to bring that sound to life. For example, strings have a particular range. If a synth player ignores that real-life range then the sound begins to appear unrealistic. Below is an example of a pop tune in which a synth player might play the background horn parts.

synthesizer basics 1

Check out our lesson on synth technique for a detailed breakdown on how synth players go about fine-tuning this kind of approach.

Funk keyboard tricks of the pros... well, not "tricks" exactly. There's no "inside secret" that the professionals know and refuse to share with the rest of the world. But there is a little thing called "experience" - something the pros have and the advancing students need. Have you ever wondered why your playing doesn't sound as clean as on professional recordings? Or why your advanced jazz comping doesn't sound good on non-jazz tunes? Or perhaps you think your solos sound a little stale? If "yes," read on.

Funk Keyboard Tricks #1: Less is MORE

Let's first discuss clavinet and organ playing. Although they look like pianos, simply cutting and pasting left-hand-type piano voicings to the clav or organ generally doesn't sound good and means that you don't really understand the instruments.

The clav has a fairly small dynamic range. The very lows will sound muddy and distorted. The very highs will sound thin with quick decay and no resonance. So stay in the mid-range in order to keep the instrument in its wheelhouse. And keep your chords and comping s-p-a-r-s-e. "Less is more" means that you will get better-sounding chords if they are not too thick. Sometimes even single-note clav comping is the most effective. Pros understand that the clav is most effective when it is primarily used rhythmically instead of as a comping instrument.

The organ is incredibly expressive with a much larger range than the clav. But the "less is more" concept still holds true. The organ is great at creating a wide variety of textures with its different drawbar configurations. Chord voicings and comping requires different considerations than those at the piano. So don't approach chords the same way you would at the piano. Using fewer notes often yields the best result.

Funk Keyboard Tricks #2: Jazz Voicings in Funk and Rock

You probably practiced long and hard to learn your left-hand rootless voicings for jazz playing, right? Stuffed with 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, and altered extensions, you figure there's so much cool stuff in there how could it not sound good, right? Well jazz harmony (and therefore jazz comping) is very different than funk and rock comping.

For rock music, try to revamp your approach to chords. Start by getting rid of all 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths. Begin by using only triads in all possible inversions. It's pretty common to use 9ths in rock, and sometimes even 7ths, so slowly start adding those back in. Funk music is a little closer to jazz in its use of 7ths and 9ths (often sharp-9ths). But try using triads (even if they include extensions) instead of 4-note chords. You might find that the spacing in triads creates a better sound for funk-playing.

For example:

funk keyboard tricks 1

Funk Keyboard Tricks #3: Side-Stepping

Ever hear a burnin' keyboard or guitar solo where the player all of a sudden goes into some "outside" key that seemingly comes out of nowhere and yet sounds awesome?

You've probably heard of the pentatonic scale. Well, when playing over a chord that stays put for a couple measures or more, it's a very cool idea to do what is sometimes called "side-stepping" - playing exactly one half-step above or below the key you're in. You're basically using all of the "wrong" notes. But because they're so close to the "right notes" (only a half-step away) they pull towards a resolution... and create a ton of awesome-sounding tension.

funk keyboard tricks 2

Funk harmony. That terms gets used a lot in funk keyboard lessons. It's an important concept for all musicians to understand, but it's especially important for keyboard players to understand. Why? Because when we hear the term 'harmony,' we naturally think of chords - and rightfully so. After all, harmony responsibilities in the form of comping fall exclusively to the keyboard and guitar players in most funk and rock bands. There is no short cut in learning about funk harmony, comping, and chord progressions. But there are some things that are seen repeatedly in funk keyboard circles. In this article we figured we'd give you an assist by revealing some of the tips and tricks known by the pros.

Funk Harmony: Dominant 7th Sus4 Chords

Playing dominant 7th sus4 chords is nothing really new. We see them a lot in funk harmony. But there are some really great ways to voice these chords. For example, when first learning how to play dominant 7th sus4 chords many players usually just play the chord tones. There is nothing wrong with this, of course. But it's a little common, or bland. There are some "spicier" ways to voice these chords, using extensions such as 9ths and 13ths.

funk harmony 1

In the "spicier" examples above, notice that the left hand is playing simply root-5th, or root-5th-7th. Notice also that the right hand is playing what looks like a Bb major 7th chord (1st example) and a D minor 7th chord (2nd example). Some students find it helpful to remember these voicings by thinking of either a major 7th chord a whole-step below the root (1st example), or a minor 7th chord a whole-step above the root (2nd example).

Funk Harmony: Some Essential Grooves

Every good funk keyboard player is sort of expected to know some of the most popular funk keyboard grooves. These include tunes like "Use Me," "Superstition," "Higher Ground," "I Wish" (pretty much anything by Stevie Wonder, really), "September," "Chameleon," "Watermelon Man," "Cissy Strut," and standard groove forms (the blues is a BIG one to be sure you know). Also, there are some common funk grooves that are very helpful to practice because they reveal chord progressions that you will encounter frequently in funk music.

Funk Harmony: The All-Important "ii - V"

The "ii - V" progression is everywhere in funk music. There are entire tunes that have been written using just these two chords (see Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon" and Stevie Wonder's "I Wish." Both also include a bridge section but the majority of the tunes are based on the "ii - V" groove). So the lesson here is that you really (REALLY) want to be in full command of the "ii - V" progression. How to do that? A great practice exercise is to find three different ways to play the same thing. For example, here are three different ways to play a "ii - V" progression (Ebmin7 to Ab7):

First...

funk harmony 2

Second...

funk harmony 3

Third...

funk harmony 4

In this article we'll talk about creating funky chord resolutions. What do I mean by that? Well, a trademark of jazz-funk music is the harmony. Have you ever listened to a jazz-funk tune and thought "Wow, those chord changes sound really cool. But what are they?" Here we'll explore some chord resolutions that step slightly outside of the norm, helping to create those cool, shifty, unexpected chord progressions that we hear in lots of jazz-funk and funk-rock music.

Creating Funky Chord Resolutions Tip #1: It's Not Brain Surgery

One of the things that surprises students when we start discussing some of the cool and "advanced" chord progressions is that these progressions all start from a very simple place - usually, the "V to I" and "ii -V - I" chord progressions. So make sure you're pretty familiar with the standard "V to I" and "ii - V - I" chord progressions first, otherwise what follows might get confusing.

Creating Funky Chord Resolutions Tip #2: Deception is the Name of the Game

Part of what makes a particular chord progression sound "cool" or "different" is that it doesn't take you where you're expecting to go, but rather "surprises" you by arriving at some new, unexpected chord. These "deceptive resolutions" can help create suspense and excitement in music.

A great example of such a chord progression is referred to as the backdoor ii-V (or "backdoor turnaround"). The "backdoor ii-V" is a ii-V progression that does not resolve to its 'I' chord. Here's an example of a backdoor ii-V in the key of C major:

Creating Funky Chord Resolutions 1

The idea starts simply: a "ii-V" progression, here F minor 7 to Bb7. Your ear is setup to expect a resolution to Eb major. But instead you get C major, and it sounds... well, it sounds pretty cool. How? Why?

To answer this let's examine the "ii-V-I" resolution that we might expect to hear:

Creating Funky Chord Resolutions 2

As we look at the Eb major chord and compare it to the C major chord, we notice a couple common tones: the 'D' and 'G'. The 'Eb' and 'Bb' in the Eb major chord, however, become 'E' and 'B' naturals in the C major chord. So really, we're only changing a couple notes, and we're only changing those couple notes by half-steps. These slight changes allow your ear to hear the resolution as one that "works," but with enough new information to give your ear that deceptive, surprised sound.

Creating Funky Chord Resolutions Tip #3: The Backdoor ii-V Part 2

Piggy-backing off the backdoor ii-V above is the following resolution:

Creating Funky Chord Resolutions 3

What's going on here is really just a variation of what we discussed above. Instead of resolving to Eb major 7, we resolve to its relative minor - which is C minor. As you can see, there are a lot of common tones between C minor 7 and Eb major 7. In fact, if you simply play an 'Eb' in the left hand in the above example, the right hand chord becomes an Eb major chord. Do you see how many possibilities exist? Changing just one or two notes can drastically alter the sound of your resolutions!

Learning some funk scales is a great way to start practicing improvisation. And the great thing about funk tunes is that they often use only a few repetitive chords, which means you can generate a lot of improvisation material from just a few scales. In this article we'll focus on three funk scales that you can use when soloing and practicing improvisation. Two of the scales are essential, must-have information. The third scale is lesser known but an excellent scale to know with quite a unique sound. Let's check 'em out!

Funk Scales for Soloing #1: The Blues Scale

Every funk and rock player needs to have a command of this absolutely essential and powerful little scale. Some of the masters - like BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Maceo Parker - have created entire killin' solos using only this scale. (Below is the C blues scale)

Funk Scales 1

A big part of learning to improvise is simply having the confidence that the notes you're playing will "work" and sound good. So here's a great way to practice the blues scale: Take a funky 12-bar blues in any key and use the blues scale for that key to solo over the entire form. You can play a single blues scale over the I, IV, and V chord.

Funk Scales 2

Funk Scales for Soloing #2: The Pentatonic Scale

The pentatonic scale is a 5-note scale (penta = "five"; tonic = "tones". So literally a "5-tone" scale). There are 2 forms of the pentatonic scale - the major pentatonic and the minor pentatonic.

Funk Scales 4

Notice that the C blues scale (a 6-note scale) contains all of the notes of the C minor pentatonic scale. This means that you can also use the C minor pentatonic scale to solo over all of the chords in the C blues form and trust that the notes will sound good.

Funk Scales for Soloing #3: The Lydian Dominant Scale

The lydian dominant is a hybrid scale. As the name suggests, we're actually combining the lydian scale (a major scale with a raised 4th) and a mixolydian scale (a major scale with a flatted 7th. We refer to this as a "dominant" scale because we commonly use mixolydian scales to solo over dominant chords). Let's take a look at a C lydian dominant scale:Funk Scales 5

For those of you who understand modes, the C lydian dominant scale is really just the 4th degree of a G melodic minor scale (this is an advanced discussion for a later date). You would most likely use the lydian dominant for playing over dominant chords.

Now consider why this scale can be so different, so cool, and so effective for soloing. It contains two major triads: a C major triad, and a D major triad. It also contains 2 dominant 7th chords: C7 and D7. This is what gives the scale a sound of polytonality (i.e., the sound of multiple tonal centers within a single scale).

Funk Scales 6

Consider how you can use this in your soloing, outlining the chord tones to seemingly move back and forth between two tonal centers over a single chord. For more information and demonstrations, check out our video lesson on the lydian dominant scale.

As we've discussed countless times on this site and in various lessons, the language of jazz borrows and lends itself to many other genres of music, giving birth to categories such as jazz-funk, fusion, funk-rock, jazz-rock, smooth jazz, and on and on. The beauty of jazz is that it is more of a language than a specific instrumentation or sound, thus the ability to use the "jazz" label in so many divergent musical settings.

I would like to present 5 jazz-funk tunes that you need to check out. A few disclaimers at the get-go: First, these tunes/artists are listed in no particular order. They are merely suggestions of some great music that I've discovered over the years and enjoy introducing to students. Second, Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon" is not on the list. Why? Because, c'mon, that tune is such the quintessential funk tune listening requirement of every musician that it's automatic, and for that reason I didn't want to use it to take up a spot on the list. It is so classic that it deserves it's own article, and that's just what we've done... and you can find said article here. And lastly, (I feel compelled to say this), these are not my "Top 5" jazz-funk tunes, but simply "5" jazz-funk tunes. Narrowing a list down to my all-time "Top 5" would be too burdensome a task and I just can't handle that level of stress in my life right now.

So without further ado, here are 5 jazz-funk tunes you need to check out. I hope at least one of them introduces you to a tune or artist you have not yet discovered. Happy listening!

1.  "The Chicken," Jaco Pastorius, The Birthday Concert

Probably one of the most popular funk-jazz tunes of all-time (second, of course, to Herbie's "Chameleon") this tune is a funk staple at jam sessions and features some of the greatest jazz-funk musicians of all-time. The solos on this track are exceptional - Michael Brecker, Jaco Pastorius, Bob Mintzer, Peter Erskine... what more could you ask for?!

2.  "Thing of Gold," Snarky Puppy, groundUP

This is the "it" band of the moment in the jazz-funk-rock space right now, and they absolutely deserve to be. The band has it all - excellent individual soloists, incredible musicianship throughout featuring a versatile horn section and impeccable rhythm section, great songwriting, collaboration with artists across various genres, and some of the best production happening right now. Just clicking on all cylinders, and hopefully they'll keep it going for many years. "Thing of Gold" is one of the "singles" that put them on many people's radars, but they have some great tunes throughout their catalog.

3.  "Rolling in the Deep (Adele cover), Dirty Loops

For those of you who have not yet discovered Dirty Loops, you're in for a treat. They're a trio of young men from Sweden who got together and started creating their own jazz arrangements of today's pop hits and became youtube sensations. They've since gone on to sign a major label deal and release their own album. Many have trouble categorizing their unique sound. Are they pop? Jazz? Rock? Funk? Who cares - they sound great, and original.

4. "If You Want Me to Stay," Larry Goldings, Whatever It Takes 

This one stays a little more in the traditional funk wheelhouse. Larry Goldings is a phenomenal pianist and organist who is equally at home in the jazz and pop worlds (he's James Taylor's pianist, among many others big-name artists). This tune was originally done by Sly and the Family Stone, and the Larry Goldings version features funk icon Maceo Parker.

5. "Local Hero", Yellowjackets, Politics

The Yellowjackets are another powerhouse band that is incredibly musical and versatile, with original tunes that span jazz, funk, rock, gospel, and pop. The core band is currently made up of Russell Ferante on piano, Bob Mintzer on saxes, Will Kennedy on drums, and Dane Alderson on bass. This is an oldie from 1988 featuring Marc Russo on the sax solo.

 

 

 

 

Creating your own drum beats is a fun way to learn more about funk music and composition in general, and rhythm and time in particular. Most students (non-drummers) think that creating their own drum grooves is over their head, but the truth is that there are some basic and easy tips that you can learn to help you create your own drum groove-jam tracks or add drums to your own compositions. In this article, I'm going to show you a few tips that will get you creating your own drum grooves in no time.

Tip #1 - Change the Way You Listen to Drums

Most non-drummers listen to drum grooves and are in awe of how the drummer is able to engage both arms and legs simultaneously to weave a complex texture of rhythm. If you were to ask most people what the drummer is doing rhythmically, they would be at a loss as to how to break down the overall groove. The next time you listen to a drummer on any piece of music, do not focus on the entire drum groove or a particular pyrotechnic drum fill. Instead, focus on just one drum within the kit, for example, the snare drum. Try to figure out the rhythmic pattern of just the snare drum. On what beats is the snare drum played? Is the snare drum pattern a one-, two-, or four-measure pattern? Can you play the snare drum part (clapping or tapping) while counting along with the beat? Once you have a pretty good idea of what is going on with the snare drum, focus on a different drum within the kit (i.e., the hi-hat or kick/bass drum). You'll soon realize that the drummer is playing a fairly basic rhythmic pattern on each drum, but when layered over one another the result is a rhythmically dense groove that can sound quite complex.

Tip #2 - Learn Some Basic Drum Notation

Often, seeing something written out can help our brains process what is being performed. So even if you're not a drummer, it can be very beneficial to know how to notate some basic drum grooves, especially if you want to create your own drum grooves or are interested in writing music and want to find ways to communicate your ideas directly to the drummer.

Below is what is referred to as a basic drum map, showing you what drum notation looks like. Listen to the audio file while reading the music below in order to see where each drum of the kit is written and to get a sense of what each individual drum sounds like.

Creating Your Own Drum Beats 1

Tip #3 - Learn to Write Out A Basic Rock Groove

The first step in creating your own drum grooves is definitely listening to examples of the kind of groove you're interested in writing. Let's take the example of a basic rock groove. Once you've gotten some practice focusing on individual rhythmic patterns of each drum in the kit, try your hand at writing out a simple rock groove like the one heard here:

Creating Your Own Drum Beats 2

Tip #4 - Learn to Play a Drum Groove Using a Program Like GarageBand or ProTools (on a Midi Keyboard)

Programs like GarageBand, ProTools, Ableton, Logic, etc., are referred to as DAWs (digital audio workstations). They are music production programs (computer software) and range from free (GarageBand, for example, comes standard on Macs) to very expensive (i.e., a few hundred dollars). If you have a Mac and have not yet used GarageBand, it's time to learn. GarageBand is a powerful resource and tool that you can use regularly in your practice in a variety of ways. If you're interested in writing, producing, or arranging music, it's probably wise to invest in one of these programs as they are now the industry-standard for how these music production tasks are performed. And since the midi keyboard is the tool of choice for entering data using these programs, we keyboardists have a distinct advantage. By selecting a drum kit in GarageBand, my midi keyboard keys are now each assigned to a different drum of the drum kit, allowing me to "play" drums by playing the notes of the keyboard. When I create my own drum grooves, I can do so quickly in GarageBand by playing the 2-bar groove using a midi keyboard, cutting and pasting the groove to reach the desired length, and then exporting the groove as an mp3 audio file for use in my practice.

Here is a simple 2-bar drum groove that I created by playing each part individually on my midi keyboard into GarageBand, then cutting and pasting the 2 bars until I had 8 measures of music.

Creating Your Own Drum Beats 3

Tip #5 - Transcribe Your Favorite Drum Groove

Growing up I was a fan of the Dave Matthews Band and thought the drummer in that band (Carter Beauford) was something very special. Although I've never studied the drums formally, I recognized something pretty unique about Carter's playing. His sound and style of playing the drums is distinctly his own. His use of the hi-hat (how he leaves out certain notes in his hi-hat patterns) creates a syncopated feel to his playing not often heard in pop/rock music, and his fills always sound incredibly melodic to me (especially when setting up new sections of a song). I'm also a big fan of grooves in odd-meter (i.e., 5/4 or 7/4 patterns). So, I decided to transcribe and create a drum groove based on Carter's playing on the chorus of the Dave Matthews Band tune, "Seven." (Listen at the 0:47 mark which is the start of the chorus). I might use a drum groove like this in my practice sessions if I'm trying to work out some improvisation ideas in 7/8 time, or just to get some practice playing a groove or comping in 7/8 time so that I can begin to get comfortable with the feeling of the odd meter.

Creating Your Own Drum Beats 4

Tip #6 - Learn to Use the Quantitize Function of Your DAW

Once you've gotten familiar with creating your own drum grooves, quickly discover the "Quantitize" function, which adjusts any messy rhythms by aligning them precisely where they were meant to be played. This function can obviously be used as a crutch, or as an excuse for not really having to improve your own internal sense of time. But I've always used the "quantitize" function as a tool and opportunity to measure my own sense of time, and to gauge the accuracy of my rhythmic placements when compared to the flawless precision of the computer. When used this way, the quantitize function can be a tremendous asset to your rhythmic training.

In this article we're going to cover some tips to help you improve your clavinet playing. The clavinet is one of the funkiest-sounding and yet most elusive instruments in all of funk. Despite its classic and iconic sound, many players struggle to understand how to play the clav effectively. Here, we'll cover some pointers to help you understand this incredible intrument.

One quick caveat: For the purposes of this article we're talking about the clavinet sound, as opposed to the actual clavinet instrument. The clavinet sound is one that comes pre-programmed with virtually every keyboard and synthesizer sold today.

Improve Your Clavinet Playing, Tip #1: Copy Everything That Stevie Wonder Does On His Amazing Album "Talking Book"

Ok, so maybe this is not really fair. But my point is that the clav is on full display on this amazing record. Everyone knows the classic "Superstition," but some of the lesser known tracks are beautiful displays of what the clav can do in the hands of a master. Check out "Maybe Your Baby," and "Big Brother." And if you're not already familiar with this record, get familiar.

Improve Your Clavinet Playing, Tip #2: The Clav is Not a Typical Keyboard Instrument

The clav looks like a keyboard but it is very different than a rhodes, wurli, piano, or organ. Therefore, trying to solo on the clav in the typical "right-hand solo, left hand comping" jazz style is tough because this method does not play to the instrument's strengths. One reason is because much of the funky clav parts for which the instrument is known use a very quick decay - you press and hold a note and it does not ring out for very long. Also, the clavinet's mid-range wheelhouse is a relatively small range. As you go higher up the clav the sound gets very thin and the decay is greater. Going lower down the instrument results in a more full-bodied sound and longer tones with more growl. But the middle two octaves is where the clav really shines with a sound that has body and resonance. Therefore, it's a good idea to spend some time experimenting with the extreme registers to be aware of the clav's limitations and strengths.

Improve Your Clavinet Playing, Tip #3: Funky Rhythm 101!

The clav has the ability to create some incredibly rhythmic, percussive comping textures. This is due in part (again) to it's quick sonic decay. Why? Because a quicker decay means that the instrument can play faster rhythmic subdivisions with a quicker rebound so there's a lot of clarity in the articulation of the instrument. Repetitive, syncopated patterns work great on the clav. Of course, there are some classic tracks that demonstrate this, such as Billy Preston's "Outa-Space," and Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," among others.

Higher Ground

Improve Your Clavinet Playing, Tip #4: Chords and Textures

Because of the timbre of the clav, dense chords can have a tendency to get a bit muddy. It's important to treat chords on the clav differently than you would on the piano. Voicings sound best when there is some space between the notes of the chords, so textures on the sparser end of the spectrum are generally more effective than dense, clustered voicings.

Check out our "Keyboard Technique" videos for more tips on clav and electro-mechanical keyboard technique.

 

Most synthesizers come pre-loaded with hundreds of sounds, and it's a lot of fun to scroll through different banks and experiment with all of the various sonic possibilities. I have had many keyboards in my life, and there is definitely a honeymoon period each time I get a new instrument. There is a lot of education in trying out and listening to so many synthesizer sounds. Some are great, and you'll return to them frequently on your gigs. Others are seemingly useless. I mean, how often are you going to need to recreate the sound of a helicopter rotor or crashing waves (yes, these are sounds on my Yamaha Motif). But as a professional gigging musician, I can say unequivocally that 80-90% of the time, I'm using the same essential funk sounds on my gigs. Even when I need to find or create something unique, I'm generally starting with one of these essential funk sounds as my foundation and layering other sounds or effects on top.

Here are my "Essential Funk Sounds" that I use on all of my funk-rock gigs and some great examples for you to check out for further reference.

#1. Acoustic Piano - Yup, just a regular old piano sound because, after all, you can get pretty funky on the piano. There are, of course, a LOT of funk and rock tunes which features the piano prominently in the recording, such as "September" by Earth Wind & Fire, "Will It Go 'Round in Circles" by Billy Preston, and "Feelin' Alright" by Joe Cocker, just to name a few.

#2. Fender Rhodes - Every keyboard player seems to love the sound of the Fender Rhodes. This is an example of an electro-mechanical instrument (an instruments that produces sounds mechanically but then transmits the sound electronically). The Rhodes keyboards started to rise in popularity in the 1970s (as funk and jazz-rock was also growing in popularity), and nowadays is a vintage instrument that still gets a lot of use on gigs and recordings. Check out the sound of the Rhodes on some classic funk recordings, such as "I Wish" by Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon."

#3. Wurlitzer Electric Piano (Wurly) - Also an electro-mechanical instrument, the Wurly (as it is called) is another vintage instrument that still gets a lot of use in today's music. Its sound is similar to the rhodes, but also very different in that it has more bite and grit in its sound. Check out the Wurly being played in these classic recordings: "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," by Marvin Gaye, "What I'd Say" by Ray Charles, and "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" by Joe Zawinul (with Cannonball Adderley).

#4. Clavinet - The clavinet is an instantly recognizable, funky sound that often is used more for its percussive and rhythmic qualities than its harmonic qualities. It's really a vintage funk sound that still gets a lot of use today. Perhaps the most well-known use of the clavinet in funk-rock music is that of Stevie Wonder with tunes like "Superstition," and "Higher Ground." Bill Withers' classic funk tune "Use Me" also features the clavinet prominently. Check out all three of these great tunes in our lesson "Clavinet Grooves Revealed"!

#5. Organ - There are many different drawbar settings and therefore many different sounds that you can associate with the organ. Basically, I'm referring to the Hammond organ, the classic B3. But there are other organs (such as the Vox and Farfisa) that also have a home in funk and rock music. Check out the different sounds you can achieve with the organ in funk-rock music by listening to "Cissy Strut" by The Meters, "Back at the Chicken Shack" by Jimmy Smith, and "Love the One You're With" (Aretha Franklin featuring Billy Preston). All of these tunes are also featured and discussed in our Essential Hammond Organ Course!

Every musician loves to check out, talk about, play, buy, sell, and trade gear. What is "gear"? It really refers to anything that becomes part of your essential setup. Here at JazzEdge, we use lots of different gear, both in our online video lessons, behind the scenes, and even out on the gig. Students are often asking us what kind of gear we use, so we thought we'd shed some light on the funk keyboards and gear that we really dig.

KEYBOARDS

In all of our videos, you'll see us using Yamaha keyboards, specifically the Yamaha Motif ES6 synth for funk lessons, and the Yamaha DGX 640 in our jazz and classical lessons. The DGX is an 88-key weighted keyboard with some nice acoustic piano patches, as well as some other traditional sounds such as electric pianos, organs, strings, pads, brass, and synths. We really like the Yamaha brand, largely because Yamaha has done a great job of capturing the weight, responsiveness, and hammer-action of a real piano (that "real piano feel").  The Motif is a 61-key waterfall-style synth (meaning it is not full-size and has non-weighted keys). It has a multitude of very authentic sounds and a lot of "tweak-ability," so you can quickly add various effects and can easily layer and split sounds. It's a powerful piece of funk keyboard gear that gets a lot of action out on the gig as well since it's a keyboard of choice for many professional gigging musicians. The next time you're watching a show featuring a live band, check out the name brand of the keyboards being used. Quite often, there's a Motif on stage.

We also have lessons which feature the Hammond SK2, an excellent portable-version clone of the famous Hammond B3 organ. This little keyboard is infinitely more portable than the Hammond B3, making it a desirable alternative to lugging a real organ from gig to gig. Put it through a Leslie (the speaker that famously accompanies the B3) and it sounds so much like the real Hammond B3 that most people can't tell the difference. And a few of our videos feature the Nord Electro, which many musicians refer to as "those red keyboards" (because they are entirely bright red). In my opinion, yeah... the Nord series is awesome. They're portable, stylish, and offer tremendous amounts of controllable options and effects. But perhaps Nord is most proud (and deservedly so) of the quality of their sounds and samples. The pianos, organs, clavs, and electric pianos sound incredibly similar to the real instruments. My personal setup for live gigs consists of a Nord Stage 2 and a Yamaha Motif ES6. Both are very easy to program and fairly intuitive.

SOFTWARE

We write a lot of music (a LOT of music), and as I mentioned above we use a music notation program called Sibelius, which makes all of our writing nice, neat, and easy to read. Sibelius is a popular program in the music-writing world, as is another program called Finale. They're both equally great, although my own experience tends to indicate that more people are using Sibelius. We also use iMacs in the office and do a lot of work in GarageBand and Logic, which are digital audio workstations (or DAWs, as they're called).

HARDWARE

As mentioned above we use, and very much enjoy, Apple products. But there are some other pieces of hardware that we also use regularly. Our studios are equipped with Allen & Heath multi-channel mixers. We also use various controller keyboards in our offices, such as the M-Audio Keystation. Controllers are simply empty keyboards (no guts) that produce no sound until you plug them into a piece of hardware or software. We use them primarily for creating sheet music and jam tracks on programs like Sibelius and GarageBand.

So let us know what you own, what you'd like to own, what you've owned previously, and what you'll never own again!

 

So many students are interested in practicing funk keyboard, but oftentimes the allure of the synth sounds, effects, and drum beats overshadows the real essence of funk music (and music in general)... the GROOVE!

In this article, I'm going to introduce you to a few fun methods for practicing funk keyboard and "groove" by focusing on 3 areas.

  1. Learning the groove;
  2. Playing with a solid sense of time;
  3. Maintaining the groove.

First, check out the clavinet groove we'll be learning:

This is a simple GarageBand sketch that uses all stock sounds. For the clavinet, I used the stock "Vintage Clav, Classic D6" and tweaked some of the EQ settings (Filter = Brilliant; Pickups = "D" and "B"; Position = "Low" about 3/4 of the way up, "Up" all the way up, "Damper" all the way down; Drive and Reverb = about 50% up; Ambience and Flanger = about 40% up).

Learning the Groove

"Learning the groove" refers to the idea of fully mastering a specific groove, complete with the correct notes, rhythms, fingerings, articulations, etc. I remember many of my teachers constantly reminding me that it is "harder to unlearn a mistake than to simply learn it right the first time." They were right, but as is true with most students, I had to learn this the hard way. So be sure to practice slowly and in small pieces. The groove is a 2-bar phrase that repeats and is based on 2 chords - F7 and Bb7. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Start one hand at a time. First learn the left hand, then the right.
  2. Follow the given fingering!
  3. Use your metronome and start slowly. When putting hands together, work in short chunks and link these together to create larger phrases.


 

Playing with a Solid Sense of Time

This involves going beyond the notes and chords and focusing on the rhythmic precision and phrasing of what you are playing. Collectively, these aspects of the performance are what musicians are really talking about when they say things like, "It's all about the groove," or "Man, those cats are really in the pocket!" What they're really saying is, "Man, those guys have a great sense of time!"

Most students think that working on your sense of time and rhythmic precision means hours of boring practice with your metronome, and so they avoid this type of practice. I used to think the same thing, but now when I work on rhythm and time elements it is some of my most engaging and enjoyable practice. That's because I have found some fun ways to practice these elements, such as the following:

  1. I use my metronome on different beats. Instead of always placing the metronome on downbeats, try playing with your metronome accenting upbeats or other syncopated off-beats, such as the last 16th-note of each beat. Or trying playing with the metronome on beats 1 & 3, or 2 & 4.
  2. Find some drum grooves/beats and practice with those. Drum beats, jam tracks, and play-along tracks are all excellent resources for improving your sense of time. Drum grooves fill the same role as the metronome but are generally a lot more fun and stimulating because they put you in that "real-life music" mindset, as though you are playing with other musicians. All of the courses at www.FunkPianoLessons.com include a corresponding jam track.
  3. If you have a Mac, learn GarageBand. It's easy, fun, a powerful tool for practice and composition, and comes loaded with drum samples and loops (preset drum grooves) that can be played and tempo-adjusted with a simple click of the mouse.
  4. You can also build your own drum grooves or jam tracks in Sibelius or Finale (music notation software programs). For this you would need to know a little bit about drum notation (easier than you might think). Once written into Sibelius or Finale, you can simply cut and paste the groove to the desired length, then export the part as an mp3 audio file for use as a jam track.

Maintaining the Groove

Ever check out a Motown record and listen to what the musicians are playing on the track? Oftentimes the instrumental parts of those Motown songs are short phrases with simple rhythmic and harmonic ideas that repeat over and over again, while the singers get the spotlight and the melodic gymnastics. Basically, the instrumentalists are jamming on just one or two short musical ideas for the duration of the track. But it sounds so funky, so energetic, so locked in! Those musicians lived and recorded in an era that did not allow for seamless editing, overdubs, and isolated corrections. They all came into the studio together and recorded simultaneously, so they had to bring "IT" to every take. They understood something very important about funk and groove-based music - their job was to keep the people dancing and keep the musical energy high no matter how many times they played that same, repetitive, sometimes monotonous musical riff over and over again.

What should you learn from this? Even if you're playing the same thing over and over again, which is sometimes typical in funk music, maintaining the groove is an important skill for all musicians (especially rhythm section players). When you practice, focus not just on the notes, but the rhythmic and dynamic intensity, nuances in the articulation of certain notes, and the interplay and relationships between the various other musicians. Be sure to stay focused on these micro-level attributes of the music and not to let your attention wane. Understanding that repetitive grooves need to be played with integrity even after 4 or 5 minutes of jamming is often one difference between an inexperienced player and a mature pro.