Ask the Expert – Rock keyboard

Ask the Expert – Rock keyboard

How to play rock keyboard styles

Shapwung Valui emailed asking:

“Please send me tips about keyboards techniques and styles for playing in a rock band”

As you will probably know, Musicademy is primarily focussed on worship music but obviously many of the techniques and styles that we use in worship music do in fact stem from contemporary rock and pop music. As such you should find the following articles helpful.

Understanding contemporary rhythms

Once you can use different chords and inversions properly it’s time to tackle the Achilles heel of most keyboard players—rhythm. While guitarists naturally add rhythm to a piece of music it’s much harder work for a keyboardist. It’s often easy to play very ‘straight’ rhythms (like crotchets on each beat of the bar) which can be effective but are not enough in contemporary music. The kind of music we listen too and sing in church is quite syncopated. This means that the notes we play and sing often come in between the beats of the bar. Although most people quite naturally sing this way it can often be hard to play syncopated rhythms.

There is one rhythm which dominates much contemporary worship music. If we are to be effective keyboard players we must get to grips with it and use it well. Here it is:

The rhythm we need to play is written on the ‘G’ at the top whilst the semiquavers underneath can help us to work out how it is constructed. You can work out any complicated written rhythm by finding the longest note that will subdivide into the whole rhythm (in this case a semiquaver) and laying that underneath the original rhythm. Once you’ve done that add accents wherever you should play a note and call that number one each time. Here you get the rhythm 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2.

A good variation on this rhythm is to double the notes in length and forget the minim at the end of the bar:

This rhythm is also used widely in contemporary music. Try to play songs you know using both of these rhythms. You may need to slow things down to get them exactly right before speeding up again. Do try to be very precise about playing this kind of rhythm as it can make a real difference in driving a song forward.

We’ve written plenty of articles before in the newsletter about playing keyboards (and there are some links at the bottom of this page). If you have played keyboard using the traditional music score but want to move into more contemporary chords-based playing we have three online essons from the start of our Intermediate Worship Keyboards DVDs which explain the concept of chords-based playing and then go onto demonstrate it using the song How Great is Our God. You can use exactly the same techniques for rock and pop music.

Click through to buy and download the lessons

  • Worship Keyboards 1 – An introduction to playing using chords
  • Worship Keyboards 2 – Using chords to play How Great is Our God
  • Worship Keyboards 3 – Play through How Great is Our God with the Musicademy Band

Once you have been through these three lessons more proficient players can progress to the rest of the Intermediate course. If you are less experienced and would like to consolidate your new learning with relatively simple songs go to the Beginners course (volumes 3 and 4 would be ideal) or our online video Keyboard Song Learner lessons.

Other relevant posts you might find helpful:

Introduction to worship keyboards – chords and their voicings

Free video lesson – 10 things to do with chords on a keyboard

Using string sounds on keyboards