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Three Things Keyboard Players Can Do

Keyboardist Parker Simon

As you know, the visual aspects of a performance are important, and we work on making songs look different from each other. 

This is easy for guitar players and singers, but I get approached all the time, by keyboard players asking, ‘What do I do?  I’m stuck behind a piano or a keyboard set-up!’  It’s a good question and I’m always glad to answer.

Here are 3 things you can do to make your performance more interesting for the audience, either as a solo artist or as part of a band.

First of all, change things up by being able to both stand and sit at your keyboard.  Raise your keyboard stand to a height where it’s comfortable to either sit on a tall stool, or stand and play.  This changes what the audience is seeing, as well as enabling you to match the feel of the song – sitting when the songs are more chill, standing when you need to bring energy to the performance.

You’ll want to make sure the stool is the right height to be able to work your sustain pedal as well, so it may take some trial and error to figure out the right combination of keyboard and stool heights.

                                          

I worked with a solo artist who set up 2 keyboards – one high and one lower.  We set them up in a ‘V’; each angled slightly towards each other.  When he is at the high one he stands and occasionally sits down on a stool, and at the low one (which was mainly an acoustic piano sound) he sits.  Each brings a different vibe, plus changes where he is on stage and faces a different part of the room.

Secondly, pay attention to your standing stance behind the keys.  If you’re just standing straight and only moving your arms to play, chances are the audience can’t see any movement if they can’t see your hands.

A way to remedy this, for more aggressive songs in particular, is to stagger your stance, with one foot forward and one back a bit.  This will allow you to ‘attack’ the keys with your whole body, and push in and out, giving us a visual that fits the feel of the song.

Another trick is to get visual with your hands. Follow through with your movements – i.e.; if you do a slide down the keys, let your arms follow through coming off the board, or after a sustained chord, hold it with your pedal and let your arms float up and hang.  This helps us ‘see’ the music and feel the emotion of what you are playing.

The third thing you can do is abandon ship…yes, leave the keyboard!  What I mean is, find a moment in your set to get out from behind your set-up.  Take your mic out and come up front to set up the next song or tell a story.  Do an acapella song, or even part of a song, and as you’re singing walk back and sit down and segue smoothly into the next tune.

Something else to try, if you have a hooky, singable melody or beat to clap to, is to stop playing at that section of the song, then get them to clap (on 2 and 4 of course 😎 ).  Once they’ve got that going, then grab your mic and come out front.  Keep encouraging the clapping, then sing to that, or do a ‘call and response’, getting them to repeat the lines you are singing.

Get creative!  Give these things a shot and I believe you’ll see a positive audience response.

Amy Wolter

As a trained Live Music Producer for Tom Jackson Productions, Amy Wolter brings her years onstage as a lead singer & keyboardist - along with her experience as a producer, arranger, and songwriter - to singers and bands who won’t settle for ‘good enough’. She’s worked with artists at all levels, and genres ranging from Rock to Celtic, empowering them to have confidence and authority onstage, and put on memorable live shows, a few of whom have been on two of the largest US tours in recent history. Some of her clients include Grammy award winners The Band Perry & Lacrae, CMA and ACM –winning country acts, Gloriana & Thompson Square, 2016 The Voice contestant Mary Sarah, CCMA (Canada) winners High Valley, Jess Moskaluke & Chad Brownlee, and Winter Jam Tour veterans Sidewalk Prophets & Love and The Outcome.

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Greenroom Comments

  1. I’ve been searching for an article like this since I left the DIY Conference last year! Outside of purchasing a “Key-tar” I couldn’t come up with anything creative. Thanks for the great ideas.

  2. Haha, you wouldn’t believe what my keyboard and I discussed just last night! He said, “What should I do? What can I do?? I’m stuck behind the keyboard!” And, bam! Ask and you shall receive! You guys are brilliant. Love ya!

  3. Here’s how I keep our audiences focused on the key board player (which happens to be me): https://youtu.be/-4RUyL3vUwg

    • Impressive Marq…Love the energy! (Remember boys and girls, this is not for everyone – if your music doesn’t have the energy of Sweet Crystal, what he’s doing may be too much for YOUR gig. It has to fit the style and energy of the songs, and the vibe of the band.) Marq, I like the ‘playing from the floor’ move – bet the crowd does too! Make sure you’re not taking the attention off of a lead guitar solo or something else that the audience should be paying attention to though…you want to avoid ‘misdirection’. You’re probably already aware of that…couldn’t tell by the clips if that’s an issue. Thanks for sending!

      • Thank you Amy for the kind words. After 4 decades of doing this, it’s a music ministry that keeps me going. I do my (should be trademarq’d) moves in the most appropriate places within the performance and always think of the overall effect – my guitarist IS the strongest musician in the band and I always smile when he shines and take a back seat to his solos. Sweet Crystal hopes to work with the Tom Jackson organization in the future (maybe with you now that I see there’s a keyboardist on his staff!) and your support of who I am as a performer makes today… even sweeter.

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