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5 More Ways To Play Like Keith Emerson

June 26, 2013

Keith Emerson is the reason I play keyboards. When I first started

playing music, someone gave me a cassette of Emerson, Lake &
Palmers album Brain Salad Surgeryand my life was changed
forever. Emerson is undoubtedly one of the most influential
keyboardists of the last 50 years. Here are a few exercises to give you
a taste of his dizzyingly diverse keyboard style.

Read our December 2010 interview with Keith Emerson where

YOU wrote the questions!

Read the "5 Ways To Play" lesson from that issue.

1. Organized

Ex. 1 illustrates some of Keiths killer organ work. Bar 1 begins with a descending bass line and Lydian
arpeggios moving in minor thirds. By bar 4 we see another typical Emerson device: triadic shapes over
unusual bass lines moving in parallel. The example ends with rhythmic prog hits. Emerson played mostly
Hammond C-3 and L-100 organs, but regardless of your organ rig, set your top manual to 888 (just the
first three drawbars, all at maximum) with percussion on short decay and vibrato/chorus set to C3. Set the
bottom manual to 00 8800 000. Check out ELPs track Endless Enigma for an example of how Keith
employs these techniques.

2. Five To Stay Alive

Emerson routinely sets up ostinato riffs in his compositions. Ex. 2 is influenced by the ELP tune Trilogy
and is in 5/4 time. Often after a long cadenza, Emerson plays four bars of a vamp similar to this one before
drummer Alan Palmer enters with fervent force.

3. Mano y Mono

Another sound associated with Keith Emerson is the monophonic Moog synthesizer. Keith would often play
sweeping modal lines with a fat monophonic sound employing crazy amounts of pitch-bend and portamento,
as in Ex. 3. This example uses the Mixolydian mode (major scale with a flatted seventh). When you get to bar
3, channel your inner prog rock star and turn that modulation wheel up.

4. From Rags to Riches

Emerson loved ragtime-esqe piano parts and often used an out-of-tune piano for tracks featuring them, like
on Benny Was a Bouncer and The Sheriff. Ex. 4 approximates this style. Here the left hand plays a
standard ragtime accompaniment while the right hand plays melodies voiced in sixths and other unusual
intervals. The exercise ends with a right hand fugue-like line.

5. Go Fourth

Emerson often employs fourths in his melodic lines. The notes in Ex. 5 all come from the CDorian mode. In
your own melodic explorations, instead of playing the mode simply straight up and down, try to see it in
fourth shapes. The ELP albums Brain Salad Surgery andTrilogy both feature extensive use of fourths.

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