I always like getting emails, tweets and messages and during the week I got a Facebook Query from Ash in Wales asking some excellent questions about Queen songs. I have placed the answers here in case anyone else has the same queries about playing keyboards to Queen Songs. If you have any follow-up queries on this topic please leave a comment below.
During the Queen Guitar Songs, what should you be playing on Keyboards? e.g. Hammer to Fall?
Hammer to fall, actually does have a keyboard part, which is about 53 seconds into the piece – I believe Queen called it ‘candyfloss piano’. It’s basically chords starting with A D/A A D/A A D/A E/A A … so really Hammer To Fall doesn’t fall in to the category of a Queen guitar-only song , i.e. one with no arranged Keyboard parts, however if you look at a song like Tie Your Mother Down, that song is 100% guitar on the album track. So, what would you do for Keyboard Playing in that case? For something like Tie Your Mother Down, which is also in the key of A, you could use an Analog Synth Pad with a decent attack, or indeed a Rock Organ Sound. Take a look at Tie Your Mother Down from the Wembley ’86 concert, I’m sure Spike Edney is adding some level of keys during that song. Watching Live Queen Concerts is also another way to find out questions like ‘What did Queen do in this case’, because in the studio you can layer but live you only have Freddie, John, Roger and Brian and in the mid 80s Spike joined, so you look at what was used here.
What you would want here is to fill out the sound while remaining in the background a small bit, and the keys would also support the guitarist while the solo is progressing, so that the signature chord progression is still in action.
If you are a casual player and just want to accompany the album tracks on keyboard, there is certainly no harm in looking at the chords of the songs and playing along. You will find that you will get your own feel for what you can do with each song. So if you were looking at Keep Yourself Alive, which has no keyboards, you might just play Octaved 5th chords on a low register piano sound to create a support for the bass line, or, White Man you could do a Spacey Pad which would add to the ethereal mood of the song. Look at the song, see what instruments your synth or keyboard offer you and see where those might fit. You could also look into purchasing the ‘Off The Record’ music books which transcribes in much detail, the keyboard tracks for each song.
Remember sometimes Not Playing in a section can be important too! Don’t feel you have to fill every bar with an instrument. For example, Now I’m Here is a mainly guitar song and if you filled that song my have the Keyboard Playing all the way through the dynamics of the song would be thrown off a bit much.
What Sounds Should you Use on a Synth or Keyboard when playing along to a track?
Sometimes this is obvious, e.g. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ / ‘Somebody to Love’ will always be piano. But for something like ‘Son and Daughter’ you could look at other tracks written around the time and perhaps a Rock Organ might fit well with the proggy style sound of the first 2 albums. For a more modern song like ‘Radio Ga Ga’, they were using synths such as the Roland Jupiter-8 which created the arpeggio Bass Line, and for the higher keys part it’s almost like a Bells sound, so I would look for a patch on your keyboard which has a pad/bells sound or if you don’t have that, you could use an electric piano with some extra chorus or reverb depending on what you have available.
Really when you pull a song apart you need to listen to what is being played, perhaps search google for ‘Queen Radio Ga Ga Keyboard Only’ as there are some tracks out there which only have the keyboard tracks and you get to hear what is really being played.
I will do a version of ‘Radio Ga Ga’ very soon amd will place it on to my YouTube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/c/ShaneMcDonaldIE and this will show the instrument used and also how I incorporate a little of the bass line after the chorus, so you can do a little mixing and matching to suit your style.
If you can only play chords with 3 fingers, how do you play more complex chords such as 7th chords?
This is tricky ok, but 7th chords are really there as a further embellishment to make the sound of the chord fuller and normally the 7th chords will allow a transition into a certain other chord – i.e. you just don’t start using 7ths for the sake of it. They are an important link-pin in the architecture of the song. If you can only play 3 notes of the chord, and you want to play the 7th, you have 2 options.
So, if you look at the chord C7 which is C E G Bb you could
(a) Play E G Bb or Bb C E or G Bb C so you have the 7th note , the Bb, incorporated.
(b) if you had a sustain pedal, you could play the chord C E G and then incorporate the Bb almost like a run-on arpeggio so you play C E G (sustain pedal down) and then E G Bb and you get to hear the full C7 chord and nobody is the wiser.
Again, it is understanding why the specific chord is used and which note in the chord is making this work for the song. You can see this in action if you look at for example “Doin’ All Right” where the chords are
E F#m/E Emaj7 F#m/E
(NOTE: EMaj7 which is D# E B in this case … you can omit the G# note as it’s not played)
… so if you were to play E F#m/E Emaj F#m/E (so you are not playing the EMaj7)
You can very plainly hear that the D# is very important in the tone or the feeling at that chord progression.
Some Software Tools to help during LockDown
Finally, if you do want to play around with Bass Notes and building up Chords a Good iPhone app is Acapella. It has been used by many on YouTube and allows you to record yourself playing one track and then build up your track with more and more layers. The link is below
Acapella from PicPlayPost
Any Other Questions
If you don’t know me, I’m a Queen Keyboardist and I run this site with the aim of helping those know more about Queen, Queen’s music and I love giving tips on How to Play Queen songs.
If you have any Keyboard Playing questions please do leave them in the comments below and I will either answer your comment or update the post.
Don’t forget to sign up to my YouTube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/c/ShaneMcDonaldIE for Queen Videos and Tutorials.