deck 3     steve lodder      library

much has happened since the last time the decks were scrubbed.......

backbeat books have published these 4  volumes:

stevie wonder [a musical guide to the classic albums] came first [in 05]

                 closely followed by

classic hammond organ [with cd] [in 07]


                  closely followed by 

the totally interactive keyboard bible [with cd/dvd] is written with keys player janette mason [in 08]

  the keyboard handbook  [with cd] is a reworking of the keyboard bible,published ’13.


amazon link here
amazon link here

there’s a clip here which gives you an idea of the bible dvd content: playing styles and vintage instruments

amazon link here

there’s a review of

Stevie Wonder

Classic Albums


elsewhere in the library are a couple of articles written as a monthly column for the

magazine ‘making music’ [now unfortunately defunct].

first on the shelf is

                                                        an Introduction to buying keyboards

alongside is

                                                        a treatise on left hand

more will be appearing in the fulness of time....

Keyboard Purchase-an Overview

The other day I tried to buy a smoked salmon/cream cheese bagel. Specific enough you might think but after a slight pause I was being hit with rounds of automatic questioning."Low or full fat cream cheese?Poppy seed,sunflower seed,sun-dried tomato or granary bagel?Black pepper?Lemon juice?Butter or margarine?"Blimey,I'd have settled for crumbs off the floor.A similar thing might happen should you walk into a music shop and innocently state "I'd like to buy a keyboard".Except that the must probable reaction from the sales assistant(?) would be a rolling of the eyes and an "anyone else waiting?".So to help you avoid the embarrassment of appearing not to exist here are a few essential nuggets of knowledge concerning the buying of Keyboards and Sound modules.

If you have nothing then the first thing you need is a keyboard with a MIDI interface.The interface means that the keyboard can link(just by plugging in a 5-pin lead) with anything else that sports the 3 MIDI in/out/thru sockets.Could be a sound module to expand your range of sounds;could be a computer/sequencer to record the notes you play,but the MIDI connection is essential.

Another essential to my mind is touch or velocity sensitivity,meaning the more viciously the key is struck,the louder,brighter the sound.It's the difference between a machine and a musical instrument.

This is where the roads diverge.There's cheap,there's pro,there's home setup,there's gigging rig,there's retro,sampling,workstation,back to bagels as it were.Assume for now that you're after something flexible and portable to use live and in the studio.

Cheapest keyboards around are the range of preset sound Home Keyboards (£150-500)which have become standard issue for schools("Hands off that Demo button!").These generally provide a selection of acoustic instrument approximations as well as limited synth-style sounds,also drum sounds arranged across the keyboard in one preset.Pro's are they're light to carry and they have built-in amp/speakers but although the sounds have improved over the years and at the top of the range the spec can be quite impressive,if you want to get into shaping and creating your own sounds,yes,synthesising indeed,then you'll soon be wanting a grown-up synth.

Slotted somewhere in between home and fully pro are the Interactive or Groove (£300-750) keyboards that sport banks and banks of accompaniment patterns but also provide some sound programming capability.Some models retain the on-board amp/speaker and most have the ability to provide dance,techno and a myriad of other styles.Dj's can find these useful as conventional keyboard playing is not required to spark a groove.

The mid-range Synthesiser (£400-900) will provide you with all the sound and editing power to shape timbres for your music.Normally with a 61 key(5 octave) board,and anything up to 64-note polyphony(you can play back 64 notes simultaneously),expect a wide range of quality sounds.The work by storing waveforms in ROM (read-ony-memory) which can be multi-sampled acoustic instruments or analogue waveforms such as the square/sawtooth building blocks of synthesis.These will be fed internally to a filter to shape the frequency content(brightness), then to an amp envelope to mould how long the sound takes to come and go,and finally through an on-board effects section to add reverb,chorusing,delays,ear-splitting distortion,whatever your particular bent.Look out for a built-in computer interface(Mac/PC) which can make hooking up a breeze.

If you're involved in areas of music where samples of acoustic instruments are not the thing but beeps and squelches and weird electronic morphing/ buzzing/sweeping things are more the norm then there's a brace of Analogue-style synths (£500)that have made a comeback over the last 5 years or so.In principle they re-create synths of the 70's/80's before things got digitised.In practice they can be either sampled analogue waveform-based (cheaper)or a fully-fledged Analogue Modelling (£750-1300) synth where a computer model reproduces digitally the processes of voltage controlled/analogue synthesis(pricier).It's particularly worth checking the sounds of these as each has it's own character;often it's down to the spec of the filter.Expect many knobs and instant ways to alter the sound without having to scroll squillions of menu pages viewed through a microscopic LCD.Keep an eye on second-hand original analogues in the classifieds.

Top flight synth engines normally incorporate some sequencing (recording MIDI events) ,even hard disk recording and sampling,and so their name changes to Workstations.(£850-1500) Best sound quality,best polyphony,choice of keyboards (61,76,88 with weighted action),and vast arrays of synth-editing parameters come as standard.There's a time investment required here to maximise results but the time spent learning will be repaid.The workstation is often the most practical solution as you don't have to carry racks and racks of separate....

....Sound Modules.(£500-1000) Once you have your main keyboard it's likely that at some point [a] you'll run out of polyphony and [b]you'll want to expand your sound palette.Modules are essentially the synth without the board so by MIDI'ing them up you can either double up your sound with another from the module or keep them separate by assigning them to different MIDI channels of info(there's 16 of them).Choice is huge:orchestral to dance to 70's keys to organs to pianos to you name it.Be warned though,collecting sound modules is a recognised condition liable to lead to insolvency.Most Samplers(£400-2000) are in rack/module format.To sample your own sounds and mess them up you'll need an external drive to supplement the floppy disk.

There are other routes to working setups worth a mention.If there's a particular (perhaps weighted piano-action)keyboard you like the feel of you can either get hold of a Master Controller (£350-750) keyboard with no sounds but a massive MIDI spec for controlling splits,layers on different MIDI channels, or what seems to make more sense these days,use a Digital piano/controller (£600-1500) that provides you with basic keyboard sounds and enough MIDI stuff to throw a stick at.

Other points to look for-Expandability;many synths have ways to expand the ROM by adding cards/boards for more sounds.GM-stands for General MIDI(no salute necessary);very useful to have banks of sounds arranged in this standard format for instant compatibility with MIDI file playback.

Second-hand purchase can obviously save a lot, but always check absolutely everything,particularly worn connectors/buttons(general condition will tell you whether it's been just used or abused).Make sure manuals are included(cuts risk of dodgy sourcing).

New or second-hand,always phone around for the best deal.

Right,I've got it sorted now;I'll have a workstation with optional lemon expansion card on a black olive weighted keyboard..... and chips.

Left Hand

An acquaintance of mine on seeing me take a "screaming" synth solo with pitch bend and mod wheels flying remarked that he had this vision of the left hand evolving into a claw-like hook capable of grabbing faders and wheels but incapable of playing notes.You're not far wrong there mate.Despite the advantage(?) of left-handedness I find that if I'm not playing or practising as much as I should be (what, less than four hours a day?) the first thing to go is the independence of the fingers of the left hand.I guess part of the problem stems from being an old jazzer because the bulk of the melodic dexterous stuff is executed by the right hand while the left fills in with chordal stabs which don't tax individual fingers much.So what can you do to keep that left hand from the evolutionary process described above?I suppose there are people about who would suggest playing through Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues every day but what about us slightly less ambitious mortals?

One of the main factors in LH inactivity has to be that in many playing situations one tries to cut down rather than encourage the amount the LH is being asked to do.Various reasons for this:if there's a perfectly able bass player you don't want to be crowding the bottom end;if there's a handy guitarist you're probably sharing duties in the LH chordal area;if there's a busy soloist you want to be supporting rather than pushing in(a difficult line to draw!).All these reasons for doing less with the sinister hand so when can you give it a bit of free rein?Well if your'e really champing at the bit(to continue the horsey language)try some gospel styles,boogie-woogie,New Orleans,Afro-Cuban salsa/Latin American styles or any solo piano including what they call in the states "lounge" or what I call "Radio 2" style.I thought for years that lounge meant that the humble player was "lounging" in a semi-slumped position,fag hanging from the corner of his mouth,bourbon at the LH end of the keys meandering through sixties hits.We can all make mistakes.In fact solo piano is of course the most challenging situation of all where the player has to have quite an armoury of left hand techniques to provide variety and interest (as well as rhythm and harmony). Particular techniques associated with the styles listed above provides quite a crossrange of areas to explore.

The thing about gospel LH is the octaves.It's a flamboyant sound, capable of backing up large numbers of extremely powerful singers so that octave movement supplies a weight to support them.And of course it's not always the case that you shy away from doubling the bass player.In gospel forms where the bass is often the root of the harmony (with 2 roots linked by passing notes), the doubling of octaves in the LH and bass provides real solidity.Practice octave scales but also leaps of 4ths and 5ths to increase mobility and accuracy.

Anyone who saw the Jools Holland interview won't need reminding of the importance of the LH in Boogie-woogie and New Orleans playing.It drives the whole show along so it's central to the feel.Apart from being able to play riffs and talk intelligibly on the dog'n bone simultaneously, practice switching from riff to "walking" patterns (including in the voicing if you can stretch it, 5ths and 10ths).It's pretty useful to have a smattering of "stride" technique up your sleeve as well in this context;there's nothing like dashing around between a root note somewhere in the region of two octaves below middle C, and an inverted voicing(i.e.without the root at the bottom)round about middle C to build up your physical memory of where things are on the keyboard.(Well it worked for Russ Conway.)

Salsa and Latin American musics deserve an examination all of their own.But they're not going to get one here and now so suffice it to say that if you can play a salsa bass line in the LH,(which often anticipates the next bar by a beat) and a syncopated "montuno" in the right,(which doesn't),you're doing O.K.Aside from that the LH often doubles the RH in the montuno figure at a distance of a couple of octaves,the LH being around middle C.The alternation between octaves on the outside and any of the three middle fingers on the 3rd and 5th on the inside is really good practice.Try and use the 4th finger as much as you can doing this 'cause that's the weak one and it needs the work.Check out Chucho Valdez of "Irakere" for the Cuban angle on these patterns, or Eddie Palmieri for the pure salsa.

The solo piano LH has to wait it's turn in the great scheme of things but meanwhile here's something to chew on.Find a tune with an interesting bass line and set up a patch on your synth if you can for a bass down one end and a piano at the other.Work out the bass line and chords and then play both at the same time without hesitation,repetition or deviation.If you have or can look at the "New Real Book" investigate an Al Jarreau tune called "Boogie down"-(yes I know it sounds dated but just swallow it)-the bass line is transcribed along with the chords.Perfect.

.... and remember,drummers have to "split their 'ands" but us keyboardists have to split our brains.

amazon link here