Rock Organ Tips

Rock organ tips. That’s our topic here. But we’ll take a slightly different approach than normal. The organ looks like a piano keyboard, but the two are vastly different instruments in many ways. This seems obvious, right? Well, let me tell you about a gig in which the information I’ll share below was not quite so obvious.

A man approached me on a gig and asked if I would mind if he sat-in for a few tunes later on in the night. He was a pianist who seemed to have the necessary credentials in order for me to say “sure.”

When he came to sit in he wanted to play organ (on my synth). He also wanted me to stay on the bandstand and play the other keyboard (I had two on-stage). He wanted to play “Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. The band knows this tune well. No problem, right?

At this point I’m going to relay the rest of the story with my “rock organ tips” and allow YOU to figure out what happened on the gig.

Rock Organ Tips #1: Volume

Be sensitive to the sound of the the band, the volume of your instrument, and the kind of tune you’re playing. If you’re too loud for the drummer, it’s a good possibility you’re too loud overall.

Rock Organ Tips #2: Economy of Notes

The organ has a very different timbre than the piano. Big thick chords that sound good on the piano can sound great on the organ, but issues such as register, range, and density are important considerations. Also, the organ has a lot of sounds that can be created using the drawbars. Sometimes less is more when it comes to the sheer number of notes you should play.

Rock Organ Tips #3: The Sustain Pedal

Real organs don’t have sustain pedals. Synths do have sustain pedals, which allows the player to sustain notes on the synth in the same manner that you would on a piano – very “un-organ-like.” Make sure you realize this, otherwise sustaining too many notes on a rock organ patch will sound… well… sometimes kinda bad.

Rock Organ Tips #4: Interplay

In order to work with the other players in a band, you have to listen to the other players (See Tip #1). Although I was on the other keyboard, I was forced to play very sparingly because there was simply no room for me to play much of anything. This is why musicians always preach the power of “listening.” Without that skill, other players can feel left out.

Rock Organ Tips #5: Bass Notes

Low notes on the organ can sound just as big, resonant, and low as the electric bass. So if there’s a bass player on the gig try to stay out of his/her domain. And regardless of whether there’s a bass player or not, the bass notes usually provide the root of the chord – so make sure you know the right chords or it will undoubtedly cause confusion.

* The underlying point of all of this is certainly never to shame anyone or make players feel too insecure to try something new for fear of making a mistake. The point is to help raise your awareness of two things: preparedness and listening (which are very closely related). The musician in the story above was a good musician who approached the organ as a piano. Big mistake. So pay attention to your role – at the instrument, within the song, within the band, within the venue. Start by listening to and watching the pros. Wanna get started? Here’s some awesomeness from Larry Goldings with James Taylor to help get you started!