What I Learned from Playing a Fender Rhodes Piano Bass

We’re now three weeks into the startup of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville.

I’ve been having a great time getting back into the pattern of leading every Sunday, planning out the order of the service, having weekly rehearsals at my house, being part of the set-up and take-down teams again, and getting to the Sunday meeting a lot earlier than I’ve been getting there the last few years.

And I love it. Except maybe for the “getting to the meeting early every Sunday” part.

One of the things I’ve missed as I’ve handed off regular Sunday leading to others is being involved in the day-to-day issues, challenges, joys, mishaps, failures, and successes that accompany leading congregational worship. I’m sure I’ll have more to share on those items in the days to come.

This past Sunday I had a revelation I thought might be helpful for any keyboardists who read my blog.

For years now I’ve taught piano players to play less. Less is more. Use the donut style (leave space in the middle). Tie your left hand behind your back. Etc., etc.

Here’s a video where I’m actually teaching all that.

This past Sunday, in order to give our bass player a break, I played a Fender Rhodes piano bass. It actually belongs to Joel Sczebel, our electric player, but he let me use it because he was playing drums AND electric guitar.  My son in law, Jacob, was on loops, synth, and electric. His dad, Dave, was in town and he played acoustic guitar.

After the meeting, the guys were saying how everything sounded so much clearer that morning, because they had so much space to play in. Julie, my wife, who was mixing, said the same thing. When searching for an explanation, they realized that my left hand had been limited primarily to the Rhodes. That means my contributions were right hand fills and left hand bass lines with no pedal. Ouila! Clean sound.

It was a humbling moment. So here’s what I learned:

  • Teaching people to play less and actually doing playing less are two different things.
  • I may be playing less, but if I regularly use my left hand with the pedal, the overtones are still filling the aural spectrum.
  • Changing the instrument I typically play can be a profitable learning experience.
  • I play with very patient, kind, and honest friends.

So if you happen to visit Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville in the near future, you may not see me playing the Fender Rhodes piano bass, but hopefully you won’t hear my left hand obscuring the rest of the band.

And for all you overplaying keyboardists, you’re welcome.

 

 

12 Responses to What I Learned from Playing a Fender Rhodes Piano Bass

  1. Steph Seefeldt October 16, 2012 at 9:39 PM #

    Ps: voila! :)

    A friend told me to ‘play the rests – they’re active’ and it totally changed my playing. Love it. So grateful for what you do!

  2. Clyde October 16, 2012 at 11:03 PM #

    Bob,

    Thanks for the reminder. Changing instruments is super helpful for me. Being primarily a keyboardist, I have found that playing acoustic guitar helps me with rhythms overall.

    On an unrelated topic, I have a question.

    What considerations should drive how we structure the stage? What are generally good placements for instruments, singers, considerations for other elements (baptismal pools, space for preaching, acoustics)?

    Perhaps you might consider writing a blog on that sometime?

    Thanks,

    Clyde

  3. oshea davis October 16, 2012 at 11:18 PM #

    As an electric guitar player who has tried to emulate delirious? I found out about this along time ago: about keeping tonal ranges free for the right instrument, and only doubling when it calls for it.

    When I play electric I can do two things. Lead with one or two strings on a specific octave rang or rock it up with power chords and tube distortion. I often feel reluctant to rock it up when the piano, keys and acoustic guitar are already playing in the octave range that I need in order to rock that way they want me to: in the end it will just sound muddy and not accurate.

    Thanks bob for writing on this! To this date the best I have ever heard Sovereign Grace (whether live or recorded) was at one of your early Worship conference when you had Stuart Townsend take the musicians in a live practice and made them play in strict tonal ranges, showing them how to sound like a CD.

    -Oshea Davis

  4. Jim Pemberton October 17, 2012 at 2:33 AM #

    I vie to do this whenever I play with a group. But I’ve found myself more often recently running sound for groups. When the group is playing on top of each other it’s muddy. When the group is leaving each other space, it’s easy to mix.

    the lead sound tech at my church and I have slightly different techniques for clearing up muddy groups. He tends to remove musicians entirely from the mix until the group sounds good. I tend to isolate individuals by giving them different EQ profiles where they are playing on different frequencies.

    Now if I were mixing you on piano when you were playing too heavily, I would gate the signal from the large side of the harp and EQ it down to eliminate unnecessary reverberation. Some would still be evident in the sympathetic vibrations on the small side, but not enough to worry about. I would also low-cut the small side to eliminate bleedover. It’s a whole lot easier if just one person covers bass.

  5. David MacKenzie October 17, 2012 at 2:50 AM #

    Bob, another way to say it is normally, your bands have both your left hand and another bass player, but this week there was only one of those. So it wasn’t just about playing donut-style or not using the pedal, it was not using your left hand (as a pianist) at all. Ray Manzarek managed to make The Doors sound interesting playing that way!

    I remember reading that when Keith Green started recording, he was used to playing solo, and it was tough for him to learn how to leave space for the bass guitar player on the records. He initially wanted the bassist to double his left hand. It must have been even more challenging on the posthumous recordings for which a band was overdubbed over his live performances.

  6. Mark Nichols October 17, 2012 at 1:41 PM #

    We’ve had this situation at our church (Frederick Sov Grace) . Bob..you might even recall the Sunday you led worship at Frederick and I was playing bass on a synth for the same reasons. I have found the experience VERY enlightening with regard to understanding the bass player, how they play, how they lead/blend, how they listen, etc. In prep for that, I was amazed at how little my ears were tuned to what’s going on down there in bass land. It’s a great experience for anyone who wants a better understanding this vital member of the band.

  7. West Breedlove (@westbreedlove) October 17, 2012 at 3:48 PM #

    Oshea said, “To this date the best I have ever heard Sovereign Grace (whether live or recorded) was at one of your early Worship conference when you had Stuart Townsend take the musicians in a live practice and made them play in strict tonal ranges, showing them how to sound like a CD.”

    Was this recorded & available?

    • Bob Kauflin October 17, 2012 at 6:27 PM #

      West, unfortunately, it wasn’t recorded.

  8. Debbie October 20, 2012 at 3:14 AM #

    As a pianist I try to leave space in the middle, but our singers often have pitch problems that I try to correct by emphasizing the melody in a “hearable” range. (I’m not the worship leader.) any suggestions?

    • Bob Kauflin October 20, 2012 at 3:23 PM #

      Debbie, you can try playing the melody an octave higher. They’ll hear it better and it won’t be in the way of the other instruments. But I think singers often get their pitch relative to another pitch, not by hearing what they’re singing. So make sure they’re hearing the harmonic instruments in their monitors, and that a clear pitch center is being communicated. That is, make sure the harmonic instruments aren’t too busy. Octaves and open 4ths or 5ths work well. Is that helpful?

  9. Mark Dunstan October 28, 2012 at 6:17 AM #

    Oshea, I’m a guitarist, and that was really helpful post reminding me how to play best within the band. Thanks! I recently got a new marshall amplifier, and the temptation to chug chords out at the expense of muddying the overall sound is big!

    Bob, I found this a really helpful article, thanks. I’m not a keyboard player, but I feel like it can be one of the hardest instruments to adapt to the worship band because:

    1. Piano players are often the best musicians in the band, with years of classical training, performing experience and the ability to carve up on keys;

    2. Playing in a church band often requires soft chords or subtle harmonies, barely using their left hand.

    I could imagine how this would be a huge adjustment/be difficult and humbling!

    Anyway. Thanks for the sharing this wisdom!

    Mark

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