5 Steps For Working Up Rock/Pop Songs on the Keyboard

Keyboardists have a tricky gig: they not only have to learn all the keyboard parts, but also are expected to carry all of the extra instruments that aren’t covered by the rest of the band. I’ve been retooling my technique, and here’s what’s working for me right now: 


1. Chart it out


I make a quick Nashville numbers chart of each tune, making notes of key solos and anything else that I should pay special attention to during the song. If you have any music theory background, learning to chart in Nashville Numbers is easy. Write me, and I’ll send you my free Nashville Numbers how-to guide. 


2. Work on the parts with just a piano


Once I understand the flow of the song, I sit down with a recording (when I have one) and practice the parts using a simple piano sound. I’m just trying to get the actual parts down at this point, and sticking with just a piano helps me stay focused on the music. 


3. Create the patches


Once I understand the parts a little bit, I begin programming the sounds I’ll need for each section. It doesn’t have to be perfect- I’m just trying to gather the groups of sounds I’ll need for each song at this point. 


4. I practice with the patches, stopping to correct. 


This is where I start to fine-tune the sounds to match what I’ll need onstage, and even create a few backups of things I think other people will cover in the band (or tracks). I recently played a set where the tracks stopped working mid-set, and I had to cover all of the sounds with the backup, just-in-case patches. 


5. Straight run through with recording


Once I feel confident I’ve got the sounds down, I do a complete non-stop run-through of the set. I record myself, and then evaluate at the end of each run to look for mistakes.