June 5, 2007


by Chris Randall

So I decided to expand my keyboard vocabulary a little bit this week. (To put this in perspective, if it was word vocabulary we would be talking about, I'd be stuck why the fuck there are three different ways to spell "there".) Since I am an entirely self-taught musician, and can hold my own on any instrument you don't have to blow in to, I have a fairly well-traveled road for teaching myself how to do something that has served me well for three decades.

In the modern digital age, it takes a bit of a new spin, as I can actually dissect things and get to the "why" of them, rather than just puzzling out sheet music, an intensely boring thing. So, what I do is pick a song (say, for instance, "One For My Baby"), go find a General MIDI file of it that doesn't completely suck (harder than it sounds), load it up in to Logic (which is better for these sorts of things than Cubase, IMO), and proceed to figure out the parts. Then I put my own spin on them, and essentially learn the entire song by rote.

On the plus side, even though I've learned the song by rote, and am thus no more than a trained monkey, all the elements of that song, including some truly massive chords, work their way in to my musical vernacular, and reappear or not as appropriate. One big minus is that I have a hard time transposing a song on the fly; I know three different inversions of an Am7 chord, but I couldn't play any of them a half step down if my life depended on it. Nor could I add or subtract notes just because I thought the chord needed a little sauce or whatever. Nor can I immediately come up with transitional chords (which is annoying.) If they weren't in the MIDI file, I generally don't know them.

Jesus, this story is getting long; you are no doubt wondering if there's a point anywhere in the foreseeable future. Well, sure. I was listening to some old Ron Carter today, with some extremely soulful gospel piano work courtesy of Gene Harris, and I decided to learn gospel chords. I know that there's something added or subtracted from a typical chord progression to make it a gospel chord progression. However, I don't know what that _something_ is. In my search on the tubes of the Interwebs, I discovered a rather unsettling fact: the people that take the time to write about gospel piano on the internet are not Ray Charles. Neither are they Aretha Franklin. They are essentially Pee Wee Herman. To wit. It's like if Sonic State were run by the Lollipop Guild. I think the entire gospel piano industry is run by that fucktard that has been putting perfect pitch ads in Keyboard magazine for the last 30 years. (Bonus points if someone scans the picture of him with his high school muse that appeared in the mid 80s issues; I think that picture speaks volumes.)

So the question of the day, if I could stop digressing, is two-fold:

1. How do you teach yourself to play specific songs if you can't sight read? (Laptop jockeys, I love you like brothers and sisters, but this one isn't for you...)

2. Is there a good readable source of information on the internet about why gospel chord progressions sound different than the same progression played by a jazz or blues player? Is it specific inversions, or a consistently added note?



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Mar.29.2008 @ 5:29 PM
MrE Train
I'm not familiar with those Ron Carter/Gene Harris tracks, but that "gospel keyboard" sound in question may have included:

!) octave intervals between the lowest-to-highest right hand notes.

2) doubled triads in the left and right hands

3) a preponderance of moving 1 minor and 2 minor chords in the right hand. Use the 1 minor in place of the major tonic, and the 2 minor in place of some of the subdominant and dominant chords.


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