Like so many of us, my first interface for synthesis was akeyboard. I grew up playing organ, then gigged 100s of shows playing synth keys in an alt-rock band in a past lifetime.
Five years ago when I was designing a studio and performance rig for my original albums and shows, I started embracing a wide variety of controllers such as gesture-based infrared Percussa AudioCubes, as well as grids such as Tenori-On, and Launchpad. Over the past year-and-a-half, I've been playing the Ableton Push – like a lot. I'm hooked on the isomorphic note mode and I really love the feel and response of the pads.
The isomorphic nature of the Push encourages you to hold your hand in certain shapes when playing in note mode. The pad response also encourages you to vary the tension in your hand in ways that are just different from what you are used to on keys. If your hand is very tense your fingers and hands bounce of the pads with much more force than on a synth action or piano keyboard.
After months of mostly playing on the Push I started working on a new long-form piece on the Nord ad 4. The Nord Lead 4 has the lightest synth keyboard action of any keyboard I've ever owned. I really love it. As I was riffing out and experimenting with new ideas I noticed my hand position was different. I was using a more clutching rigid hand position with more tension in my hand just out of habit from playing chords and doing melodic work on Push. I started to run with this idea and started playing they keys more like a push. I've come up with all sorts of new chops as a result.
In a related note – you can of course go the other way. The always amazing and inspirational Jeremy Ellis is a great example of someone taking piano training to a responsive grid. This video illustrates some of the hand position and rigidity I was mentioning.
I have spent over five years jumping from controller to controller. So what's different this time? It was the dedication to the Push for months – and break from keys that allowed me to form a different habit, and also create a gap where the other technique wasn't used and lose a bit of the old habit in the short-term.
Like the old saying "travel expands the mind" – travelling to the Push, then coming back to keys has expanded my chops on the keyboard.
Time for a trip. Where can you travel "instrument-wise" to expand your chops?
2 responses to “Synth Artist Tip: Fingering Technique and Hand Position Cross-Pollination – Or How I’m Bringing Grid Chops Back to the Keyboard”
Yes, Wavedrum is another good suggestion for incorporating finger drumming. Thanks for mentioning it.
This is a very good point you’re making. Practicing on hammer action keys in general helps strengthen one’s fingering technique and dexterity. This in turn translates well to percussion. I’ve found that this can benefit one’s technique in sensitive percusive surfaces (e.g. the Wavedrum). You can basically play rhythmic patterns by “finger drumming” with just one hand on the Wavedrum skin surface, in a similar way you play scales on a keyboard. And then it goes full circle: your rhythmic playing influences a more percussive playing on a keyboard or pads.
Also, jumping from controller to controller definitely makes sense, as each controller pretty much guides you to approach melodic (or rhythmical) ideas differently, when moving away from the chromatic keyboard paradigm into pads or grids. Particularly controllers that support aftertouch or pressure sensitivity, XY pads, ribbon & other mod controls, including touch screen surfaces.