Playing Together as a Band: Pads / Textures

Andrew Stanley —  February 7, 2013 — 2 Comments

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Do you ever feel like even with all the pieces in their place, there’s still something missing from the sound of your band? It happens. You can lock in a rhythm section and know that your lead lines are taking the spotlight, but sometimes you can just feel something missing.

Chances are what you need are Pads or Textures to fill in all of the gaps. At the risk of frustrating Jared Taylor, I’m not going to say that pads are “like the glue that holds it all together,” but I will say it’s like the water that fills in all the cracks.  If it’s a thick sound you’re going for, you’ve come to the right place.

It’s like the water that fills in the cracks.

Before we list some practical tips to remember while playing pads or textures in a band setting, I might need to show an example of what pads are.  Take a listen to this clip, (With Everything – Hillsong (Track 16)) or listen to the intro of any other Hillsong song … you’ll get the point.

A pad or texture is typically found on a synth (or in the patch bank of most keyboards) or a highly processed electric guitar, but could also occasionally come in the form of an orchestra (maybe not in the typical Sunday morning setting), choir, or loop.

Things to remember when playing the pads:

  • Your goal is not to be heard — it’s to be felt and to add thickness to the overall sound.
  • The voicings are crucial when playing chords — typically good voicings are made up of “stack 4” chords (OMITTING 3rds, and with 9ths added — or open 5ths, octaves, or single notes, depending on what the arrangement needs).
  • The attack on most pad patches on keyboards is VERY slow — the means that you’re going to typically play long sustained chords that move slowly. It is not uncommon for a pad player on the keyboard to play one static note or interval for an extended period of time (get a heavy book, put it on the pedal and go grab yourself a coffee).
  • There are a LOT of bad pad sounds on most keyboards. You have to filter through the lists to find one that doesn’t sound like a computerized string quartet — take the time to find the right patches!

Keyboard players, let’s call it like it is, you are most certainly over qualified for this role! But, never underestimate the contribution that a pad can bring to the overall sound.

Andrew Stanley

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2 responses to Playing Together as a Band: Pads / Textures

  1. I’d like to expand a bit on Andrew’s comment about the attack being very high on many keyboard pads, from the perspective of a keyboard player.

    First, a quick note on what Andrew means by attack: keyboards and synthesizers use something called an envelope to shape the volume of the sound. Attack time is the time between when you press the key and when the sound reaches its maximum volume, and release time is the time between when you release a key and when the sound stops. Take a look at http://www.christeck.de/wp/wp-content/uploads/christeck.de/Envelopes.png to see it more clearly.

    Not only is the attack sometimes unsuitably high on a keyboard, but often the release is too, meaning that you often have to start a pad in advance of when the rest of the band changes chords, so that there’s not an obvious gap in the sound while the pad slowly moves up to peak volume. Similarly, you might have to release the notes before the rest of the band stops playing the chord, so that your pad doesn’t keep sounding for too long.

    When you’re choosing which pad sound to use, keep attack and release times in mind. You usually either want to choose a sound with a relatively low attack and release (but NOT 0! A modest attack and release time keep the pad from sounding too abrupt), or if you have the skill, modify the presets on your keyboard to give pads a more usable attack and release time.

    Long attack or release times can be fine when you’re playing in a situation where time doesn’t matter and no one has to keep up with you (for example, holding a pad at the start of a song, or playing slow chord changes with a pad while someone is praying). If you’re keeping up with the band though, or even playing by yourself but needing to stay in time, a high attack or release will kill you.

    For an example, look at Hillsong United’s Hosanna (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQGJdTpMUcU), especially the first chorus (the other thing Hillsong does a lot is have their first chorus, and often the first chorus after the bridge/instrumental break/guitar solo section, be quieter, with usually just pads). Most of the chords in the chorus only last for half a bar. The tempo of the piece is 78 BPM (beats per minute; in this song, a beat is a quarternote), so you’re changing chords every 0.65 seconds (or 650 milliseconds; some keyboards measure times in ms). Some pads have an attack time of one or more seconds; if you use a pad like that, the chord will still be ramping up when it’s time to change chords, and then even if you change chords right away, the release phase from the first chord will kick in and you’ll just get a muddy mess. In general, the pad sound you use has to be able to keep up with the chord changes.

  2. Thanks for thinking of me, Andrew! But I actually do think pads are glue that holds it all together.

    … or maybe the tambourine.

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