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Advice on working with keyboard players?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by davidjackson, Jun 7, 2012.

  1. davidjackson


    Sep 10, 2011
    I've always played in 5 piece bands with bass, two guitars, drums and vocals. The new band I have joined is also a 5 piece but instead of a second guitarist they have a keyboard player. I didn't think much of this to begin with but now, after a couple of weeks of rehearsals, I am realising how different this is than what I have been used to. I wonder if any of you guys have any advice on either of these two points?

    The keyboard player's left hand

    I feel like I am constantly in some kind of odd sonic battle with the keyboard player's left hand. I'm not used to anybody else in the band playing down in that range and I worry a bit that we are stumbling over each other. Is this a common problem with an obvious solution or am I just still in the 'getting used to it' phase? Neither the keyboard player, nor anybody else in the band, has raised this as an issue.

    Piano rhythms over rock songs

    Another issue for me is when we are covering rock songs (Summer of '69 is a great example). Everything sounds great until the keyboards come in and it is suddenly transformed into a plinky-plonky (technical term) piano song with a really distinctive piano style rhythm. Does anybody get what I am on about? I have tried to raise this diplomatically (I have only just joined this band and they are well established) but again nobody seems to think it is an issue.

    Not even sure that any of this will make sense to people who haven't heard our band but I thought there was a chance that others in the bass community may have more experience working with keyboard players and have some advice. Thanks!
  2. HeadyVan Halen

    HeadyVan Halen

    Jun 11, 2010
    Makes perfect sense.
    IMO, you have to determine which songs are 'bass' driven and which ones are 'keys' driven. On ones where bass is pushing the song let him know that you got it. He just needs to play around the bass. On songs where the keys drive it, you hang with the kick drum. Believe it or not there are times when the root note on the kick drum is very appropriate.

    Blah-blah-blah, communication is king.
    Good luck
  3. viper4000


    Aug 17, 2010
    My personal issue with playing with keys, especially when they are used to playing solo, or for church, they are heavy on the left hand when leading into the changes. Just having a heavy lefthand during a verse or chorus is one thing, but when they really walk up to the next chord is where you will find a lot of mud. 1) Either you are playing different lead-ins and it sounds bad 2) You both play the same lead-in, and it sounds too full in the range. You'll over power any single guitar or vocal happening at that time.

    I struggled for over a year with my last keys player for this very reason. His walks and lead-ins were very piano-y, and didn't have any R&R edge to it. The only way he realized it is when we finally got a good live recording. I also had to convince the guitarist of this too (turning his bass EQ down). I even started dropping out of songs (not at gigs). When asked, I said that the keys had that one, no need for me to play. After it was all said and done, we were in our own frequency range. There were definitely songs where it was more appropriate for him to lead the bass lines, but they were few.

    Good luck. It is all about communication. If they don't see it as an issue. Hold back, be minimalist. And if you drop out, and they don't notice (other than not having a bass thump), might be time to find an additional project where you can have more bass freedom. I say stick with it. It is very good experience to play with keys.
  4. Snarf


    Jan 23, 2005
    If the keys player is crowding you with his left hand, then he's not a good keys player. The problem is most likely his.
  5. woodsideh


    Feb 19, 2009
    Charlotte, NC
    I certainly understand the problem that you have. I am also from the Charlotte area (not that we are privy to the problem) but around here we seem to have a lot of piano players and not many real keyboard players. They are trained to play bass parts. I am also an ex B-3 player and was always told that I complimented the bass. Repairing the problem has got to start with the keys. He/she needs to understand what is going on sonically. It has been my experience that a lot of key players tend to overplay particularly when playing piano parts. The next thing that needs to happen is the bottom registers of the piano needs to be eq'ed better. I guess my point is that in order to solve the problem you have to start with the keyboard player.
  6. Church piano - gospel - yes the piano and vocalist is what the audience hears and the piano (keys) do fill up the bottom end. Do not leave any room......

    So less is more. Lock in with the drums.

    Notice how a generic bass line works here.
  7. steve_rolfeca

    steve_rolfeca Supporting Member

    Lots of good advice here already.

    It's interesting that the other band members don't seem to see it as a problem. Sounds like they may not be as hip as yourself, taste-wise. I play once a week with a guy who is heavily into country Gospel, and I have to "adjust my ears" when I play with him.

    If that's the case in your situation, you'll need to be aware of band politics when you raise the issue. As one of my bosses used to say, "there's being right, and then there's being DEAD right"...

    PS: if you can't influence the keyboard player, discreetly rolling off the bass on that channel will help, at least a little.
  8. BassChuck

    BassChuck Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    A good keyboard player will stay out of the way of the bass player. If not you have to talk to them. The problem comes from the player wanting to make a complete sound themselves... fine if you're by yourself, but you have to give up a little when you are playing with other musicians. The same is true for busy drummers... cool by yourself, but a mess with others.

    Another thing is that keyboard players need to be in synth rhythmically with the guitar. If you had two rhythm guitar players, they'd have to work out what to play or it would get messy. Same with rhythm guitar and keyboard. Gotta work that out.

    Another point to consider is this: not everyone has to play all the time. Guitar or keyboard or bass could lay out for a while and give some variety to the sound. Let the keys have the low end on ballad intro and endings, nice variety and players are a little more 'fullfilled'.
  9. skwee


    Apr 2, 2010
    I have addressed this issue with a "hey, I have a question for you", and a "can we together discover a low range sound that is really effective?" "I feel like I can't be as effective as I'd like to be, and I'd like your opinion on how to work together".

    Then you can enlist a short session with a recorder or your bandmates to help you experiment with approaches. In this way, you can express your concerns constructively, hopefully arrive with a sound you like and working style that will be awesome all the time. In some cases, this can give the keys player some extra freedom, because he/she won't have to cover two roles--you'll be taking care of one of them.
  10. phillybass101


    Jan 12, 2011
    Artist, Trickfish Amplification Bartolini Emerging Artist, MTD Kingston Emerging Artist. Artist, Tsunami Cables
    the keyboard player is always right (not). Avoid setting up next to them. their choice of bass notes will throw you off. They often like to dictate what bass note should be played. If you study chords and maybe substitute another note in that chord for example instead of playing the root note and substituting a 3rd or 5th or a 7th they'll think you're wrong. I remember playing a gig and the keyboard player kept shouting to me the note to play, I studied the song forever. The bass player was substituting notes in the song and I was playing the right note but this Azz kept trying to dominate what I was supposed to play. My advise is to take everything with a grain of salt, keep your composure and most times just ignore that MF. :) Play with the drummer.
  11. I run into a lot of this, when working with keys players that don't work in ensembles much. My first step is to ask them if they have much experience in ensembles, then ask them to please stay out of the lower registers, stay above C2, if they can. And mention that piano in an ensemble will work best with voicing confined to the middle of the keyboard. Tell them to study how a jazz piano player works in a group. Of course, the inexperienced keys players will get huffy over a mere bass player telling them how to play. The good ones will listen. If they continue to play in the bass range, I will go over to them and tell them, while the song is going on, to stop it. If they ignore me, then I stop playing and let them play bass. And the band will stop and ask what's going on, and I say my piece, then see what the band or band leader does. Alternately, I stop the music, and tell the piano player, "if you want to play bass, then you must double what I am playing, so get out your staff paper and write this down." And I Show him my bass part and stay on top of him or her until the part is exactly what I am playing. The other solution is to turn down the bass control on the piano and compress the heck out of it, (or use a multi band comp) to effectively roll off the low end on the piano.

    But there is no need to put up with a green piano player who refuses to learn how to work in a group. It's just as silly as if you, as the bass player, wanted to solo way up on the neck all night long. Doesn't work, so don't do it.
  12. I don't think the OP's issue has anything to do with locking in with the drums. It has to do with his keyboard player being all over his sonic space, i.e. playing the bass parts on the keyboard. In that vid, Nora is never in the bass players space, so there is never an issue. They are always separate. That's because, unsurprisingly, she knows what she is doing.

    The OP's issue is that his keyboard player doesn't know what he's doing. That's where it has to be fixed. The keyboardist never needs to bring his hands lower than the middle of the keyboard, unless it's for a specific effect. I don't think the bassist playing notes other that the root will help at all because frequency-wise, they will still be in the same area. Mud city...

    If you're in a band, you have to know what your role is. You don't get to just wander all over, simply because that's all you know how to do. As far as the plinky-plinky rhythms go, that's just an indication that the keyboardist doesn't have a sense of a musical style that appropriate for the song. I'm gonna hazard a guess and say the issue not going to change and the OP should find another project for reasons of his own sanity. You can't make people do anything and when it comes to music, generally when people get to a certain point in their development, they either have no idea how to advance further or they are too lazy to do so.

    Edit: Guess I should have read further, because I basically just repeated what azureblue said...
  13. I play piano alone and have done since I was 6 years old (30yrs). The first time I played in a group, when I was about 14, it was a trainwreck. Fortunately it was in a school jazz band with a very experienced jazz piano player leading it. He was actually a woodwork teacher, but was a top class musician. He taught me not to play bass with my left hand, don’t even play the root note on the bottom and to spread the chords over 2 octaves. 3 7 1 5 etc .

    If your piano player hasn’t had much experience, just ask him to sit on his left hand for a few songs and play 1st & 2nd inversions of chords with the right hand. Explain to him why you can’t both play bass.

    As far as avoiding the plonky-plonky piano sound, you need him to either start thinking like a guitarist, or if he is playing keyboards rather than piano, to find a non-plonky voice and play long (whole-note) chords underneath any driving rhythms.

    I liked playing bass with my left hand, so now I play piano on my own and bass guitar in groups.
  14. Jhengsman


    Oct 17, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    What is the saying "one band, one sound". The keyboardist may be a weak link but we still must prepare for him not taking our advice or reverting to any classical training and playing the entire keyboard under performance stress
  15. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    Masks, people, masks!
    Song Surgeon slow downer.
    Stickie: http://www.talkbass.com/forum/f67/how-work-together-keys-synths-organs-618734/

    Ask the keyboard player to not play individual low notes, reduce the bass tone in his rig and not to play ten fingered chords.

    I would also discuss the situation with the guitarist because, depending on note/inversion choices by the keyboard player, he could also be stepping in the guitarist's sonic space as well. You guys need to work together on this. If you get the guitarist on board, you won't be singled out as the "bad guy".

    If you're not doing it already, record your rehearsals so everyone can hear how the group is sounding and go from there.
  16. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Your band needs to sort out arrangements...simple as that.
    Get the arrangement correct and all instrument voicings should be accounted for.

    As for tone...well you need a sound that is practical for the situation. So one that cuts through, that may not be the tone you like or want, but it is the tone that will be needed.
  17. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    Masks, people, masks!
    Song Surgeon slow downer.

    And you may need to experiment with your tone by going FOH during sound checks (long cord/wireless) so you can hear how you sound in the mix and picking up a good portable recorder for both rehearsals and gigs.

    Another way to experiment is to play parts of songs with just the bass/drums, then add guitar, then keys and have the band listen to how the sonic spaces are being covered differently now that you have a keyboard player.
  18. klokker


    Jan 7, 2009
    Steele City, NE
    Keyboard players can be a PIA in my experience. Those working station things have boomiest lows in the history of the universe. Piano's aren't so bad, but still............

    I just tell our keyboard player I don't like getting walked on. Or just play like a fret off and make the whole thing sound like garbage and bring up the issue.

    Keyboard players are usually good folks, but haven't learned how to play in a band situation.
  19. Mousekillaz


    Nov 25, 2009
    Anacortes Wa.
    Three things a KB can and should do 1) string patches (other cool atmosphere patches apply here too) 2) Hammond B3 patches 3) Piano intros and finales. All when appropriate of course.
    Most amateur KB players seem to think they are playing at a piano recital where its a given that their instrument is going to cover every part. The best ones I've played with, would always ask what was wanted on each song first, and understand the "less is more" and "keep it simple stupid" principles. As a bass player I usually dial it way back when playing with a Piano player until I see where they're going with it. I will usually excuse myself from situations where I see it's going to be a problem.
  20. steve_rolfeca

    steve_rolfeca Supporting Member

    you forgot other important functions, like picking the drummer up from his mother's house in time for the gig, correcting the guitarist's chord charts...

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