How to play piano in a band
In the past year, I've had the opportunity to play keyboards with a few musical groups, including belting out classic rock tunes (Bon Jovi!) at a friend's daughter's wedding, and playing covers of U2's music at a "U2charist" calling for action on the Millennium Development Goals.
More recently, I've also had fun playing with CBC producer and musician, Bob Carty (www.bobcarty.ca) at a couple of benefit concerts, including one this past Saturday for Salvaide, a Canadian NGO working with partners in El Salvador. Bob has had a long history with Latin American solidarity groups and has lived and worked in the region for years. (The concert also featured an incredible Latin-jazz-trio called "Soul Journey" that blew me away. If I could only find a weblink for them...).
Here's a video clip of Bob Carty and Friends at that gig:
I've been playing solo piano since age 7 (please don't do the math!), and by 16, I even managed to get my Grade 9 Royal Conservatory. But by then, I realized that I'd never be a concert pianist or a piano teacher and so I packed it in and moved on to dabble with guitar, vocals and hand drums. I continued to play piano for fun, but my Conservatory chops gradually atrophied and today I mainly play by ear.
But playing in a band has been a whole new education.
First of all, unlike playing solo piano, you don't have to cover all the parts as you often have a bass player and a rhythm section; that gives you lots of scope to be creative and to have fun with all the sounds that a synthesizer can produce: Hammond B3 organ, clav, horn lines, accordion, helicopter....
Second, as a keyboard player in a rock'n'roll or folk band, the bass and guitar tend to hog the lower half of the staff so you are pretty much exiled to North of Middle C. so that you don't clash with them.
Third, apart from the occasional 8-bar solo to strut your stuff, you need to step back and not steal the limelight from the lead singer and guitarists. Your job is to enhance their music by: playing arpeggios when they play rhythm (or vice versa), waiting for their line to finish before you play a fill, not rushing the chord progression, and often just being selective about when you play or even just staying silent to vary the texture.
(Sounds a bit like co-facilitating, come to think of it...)