I am pretty new to the keyboard and synth (but not to piano). I have been starting to play in a rock band as a keyboardist recently. However, the lines I was given to play was just some simple chords using the E.piano sound and I wasn't too satisfied since it was way too simple. The band leader allowed and suggested that I should try to play more than just simple chords. In face, he wants some variety in the sound I will be using. Because I have just started playing the synth recently, I don't have any idea what to play.

My question is: how do I know what to play as a synth player? Any specific ideas or riffs/licks that are common in this genre are welcomed.

  • What's the instrumental line up of the band?
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 16:59
  • @Tim 2 E.Guitars, 1 Bass, 1 Drum kit and my synth. BTW, I aim for this question to be sorta general so that it applies to other people and other similar situations.
    – krismath
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 17:18

2 Answers 2


I don't know if this will help you or not, but I've recently watched a set of videos on youtube that talks about how to develop a simple piano style for "comping" (playing accompaniment chords, with no melody). It starts out pretty simple, but he's got a ton of other videos with more advanced techniques. You might find something of interest in there, given several of your recent questions.

(Disclaimer: He does remind you several times that he's written a book. I'm in no way associated with that, nor have I read the book.)

Here's the simple comping series: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEEE9100E2153C94A

Here's one on developing rhythmic techniques:

And here's one on practicing with extended chords:

EDIT: To prevent this answer from being solely a YT link dump, I'll add that very often, this style revolves around improvising in a pentatonic scale.


You know what to play by listening. Some numbers will already be busy, backing-wise, so not much may be needed. There's a time to play a 'wash' over some, as in a gentle chord palette on a strings type sound under everything else. You may, in a more punchy number, match the bass line with a synth sound, to beef things up.Listen to how brass stabs work in a lot of recordings. Just a stab here and there in usually more upbeat numbers gives something no other instrument (except synth!!) can, apart from maybe drums, and you can work arrangements with the drummer to this effect.

Some numbers need the same sound all through, others will benefit from several sound changing line by line, of verse/middle eight. Again, listen carefully to recordings, and catch a particular sound that could only occur a couple of times, but that's all that the song needed.

Be prepared to do a solo using sounds that no-one else can provide - a flutey type in a ballad, a saw-tooth sound in a raunchy number.You'll have a good dozen sounds at your fingertips, straight on call. Don't be afraid to experiment - even the bandleader will be amazed when you pull something out of the bag that he didn't expect, but it fitted.

And don't forget - you don't have to be making noises every second of every number ! Watch horn players in a band, silence works well. Unless you're a drummer or bassist... You're probably going to change your volume up and down more than other band members, so a volume pedal is a great asset, freeing up both hands.

  • +1 for "You know what to play by listening." In addition, I would say one of the fastest ways to learn what to play on the synth is by listening to lots of rock songs you like with synths and emulating what they do.
    – Kevin
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 3:21

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