How To Not Be a Dumb Keyboardist


A Quick Note: This is part of  a series of posts about “How To Not Be a Dumb Musician”. These posts outline common frustrations associated with certain types of musicians in an attempt to become better musicians. Enjoy.

What guitar players were in the 1960s, keyboard players are today. Well, not quite. I guess keyboard players can read music.


The point is, keyboard players are essential to modern music. While they may not get the same level of fame as guitar players, (or wear as tight of pants) the unique sounds they create are everywhere. We’re living in the age of the keyboard player.

But guess what guys? Yep, the band is annoyed with you too. Here’s how to not be a dumb keyboard player.

Why The Band Is Frustrated With You

I know what you’re thinking. You have more gear than everyone else in the band (except maybe the drummer), you might have a completely different sound for every single song, and on top of that, the amount of notes you play dwarfs the guitar player, and makes the bass player look like a caveman.

If you’re up there working your tail off, bringing the most gear, changing the most sounds, and playing the most notes, how could the band possibly be frustrated with you?

(Don’t shoot the messenger)

They’re frustrated because despite all of the extra stuff you have to do, you’re held to the same standard as the rest of the band, and you’re having a hard time keeping up.

Don’t misunderstand me, it’s absoutely unfair. The bass player wraps up his cable (singular) and is on his way while you pack up your own personal Guitar Center. But if you raise the bar, play great, and keep up with everyone else in the band, you’ll be the keyboard player that everyone dreams about.

Let me explain:

What You Can Do

1. You Gotta Find Your Sounds Quicker, Man

As one song ends and the next begins, the guitar player switches off a few pedals and the bass player literally does nothing. Meanwhile, you have to load up 3 or 4 brand new sounds specific just to that song. As soon as the downbeat of that song hits, everyone needs to be ready to go.

If you’re not ready to go when Van Halen’s “Jump” hits, the song doesn’t sound like Jump. Either it’s the wrong sound, or you’re still tapping buttons to find your “super mondo 80s synth” patch.

Integrate Mainstage into your setup. Use Forscore to send MIDI changes on chart load. Do something. Figure this out, and the rest of the band will love you.

2. Lighten Up Your Left Hand, You’re Making Your Bass Player Mad

If you grew up playing piano, you’re probably used to playing a fair amount of left hand. It balances your right hand out and makes a solo piano piece sound complete. But if you’re playing in a band, it’s completely different.

As a general rule, play as little low-left-hand as possible. This is venturing into bass player territory, and as we’ve discussed, that’s a completely different role. The bass player might be trying to change it up and play high, and now you’re playing lower than him, which ruins what he was trying to do. Or if you’re playing different patterns, it just sounds like a muddy mess.

If you want to play nice with everyone else in the band (especially the bass player) stick to higher notes.

3. Go Easy On The Reharms, Buddy

Look, I get it. Your knowledge of music theory is extensive. Subbing in a chromatic mediant #9,11 sus over the 3rd might sound amazing, but only if the whole band is in agreement.

If you’re reharmonizing the chords, make sure you tell the rest of the band what those chords are. Giving the sideways “whoa! listen to this!” face to the band doesn’t tell them anything. It just makes them look bad when they play the regular I – IV – V changes.

Don’t make them look bad. Tell them your crazy changes, or don’t do it at all.

4. Get Your Sounds & Parts Exactly Right

What makes “Jump” sound like Jump? That crazy synth intro.

What makes “Superstition” sound like Superstition? All that funky clav.

What makes “PYT” sound like PYT? The variety of awesome synth sounds.

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. If you really dial in the sounds and nail the parts, the gig is yours forever. Don’t shoot for “close enough,” that’s what everyone else does. If you really want to stand out, spend time working on each individual sound, and know the parts like the back of your hand. The rest of the band will be blown away by your preparation and continue to call you.

Wrap Up

Keyboard players, you guys are awesome. You make crazy sounds that are absolutely crucial in today’s music. If you step it up and do these things, you’ll be unstoppable.

Photo Credit: TheMM