This was the biggest question I had when I started playing, and I still ask this question. What in the world to I play?! I mean, I could play pads on everything, but that’d be boring! And I can’t play cool lead synth lines on everything. Somehow that’s not going to work for the response song.
The answer is play whatever fits best.
I can hear you now, “Well thanks for nothing!”, but that’s the answer. Think about it. For every song you play, you need to find something that fits. For We Unite by Elevation Worship, the lead synth sounds good, because it suits the style of the song. Playing The Stand by Hillsong you’re probably better off playing a pad. For other songs, a straight up piano sounds great.
Now, as always, you can change it up for effect. Elevation Church did this with their Remix stuff. But again, the parts fit with the style of the song they wanted to play.
Ok, so now I’ve got a sound, but what do I play with that part? Wait for it… Play what fits. For a song busy with guitars and drums, you really shouldn’t be soloing the whole way. You could add a bit of dirt with a biting synth pad and let the guitars go to town. If it’s a slower song where the drums are down and the guitars are playing swells, break out a pad or pay some piano lines.
The moral is that you don’t want to step on any of the other players parts. If someone has a soloistic part, don’t play a solo over top of them. Sometimes it’s great just to hang out on the chords and make the band sound better. Add your cool riffs between lyrical lines. Add an instrumental break if you need some musical relief! (With your band leader’s permission first!) If you want some inspiration, listen to other bands. Listen to some good jazz music. Listen to good pop music even. The more you listen, the more ideas you’ll have, and the more you’ll hear what other good keyboardists are doing.
So what do you play in your band? Lots of pads? Synths? Melodic? Rhythmic?