Jordan's Riffs is a sampling of notation and isolated key tracks from Jordan's albums. The newest additions
cover selections from Dream Theater's most recent, self-titled album. Check back regularly for more updates!
This is a really fun keyboard section! It starts off with a comping feel (although in odd times) and at measure 10 goes to the JP/JR unison harmony. Pay close attention to the LH/RH markings in the notation because without that, one could have real difficulty playing this! Measure 17 is where the spotlight is really on the keyboardist! It’s a kind of proggy/honky tonk combination that will get the blood flowing in your body and mind. Feeling the inner sixteenth notes will help you a lot. In order to play the measure of 11/16 in time and get to measure 18 on the downbeat correctly, you must be very conscious of the inner fastest notes. This idea of awareness and feeling the inner time is the most important thing when dealing with odd measures, especially meters like 11/16 where there might be a dropped sixteenth note. Surely if you are trying to tap quarter notes with your foot you will not be successful! Measure 19 has a ragtime tie rhythmic idea in it. That is when you tie the last sixteenth note (within a grouping of four) to the first sixteenth of the next beat (grouping of four 16ths). At a fast tempo like in this piece it takes some getting used to. Of course playing it slowly at first is crucial to your operation. You may want to check out a Scott Joplin Ragtime book!
Measure 23 starts a nice pattern of arpeggiated augmented chords, so if you need a review of those, this is your chance!
One of my favorite things to play live is the type of thing that happens at measure 28. During my live shows I find this section a fantastic opportunity to judge the level of my nervousness and quickly make whatever adjustments to my level of focus and control to play this right. Often that means relaxing and breathing while I play it and adding a level of stillness to my mind. Almost like a balancing exercise actually! Bouncing off the thumb on all the B’s with the constant 16th notes and odd time is enough to wake up any keyboard player. The turn to bouncing of the B in the 5th finger at measure 31 adds the next level of ridiculousness and fun to it! (Hey- Welcome to my life.) Glad I can share my musical self-torture with all of you. Tommy Lee once told me that my fingers are each like little machine guns. That finger style certainly helps the cause here. My fingers became that way through years of doing exercises for the independence of the fingers. Getting the strength and clarity behind every note here is the goal. When you practice this, make sure to play each and every note with meaning and clarity. You can think of Mike Mangini playing sixteenth notes in succession on his snare drum to understand the concept. Each finger that goes down is a separate “hit” and important..
Remember keyboard brethren- please shake out your hands when they get too tense and give yourself some good breaks…
One of our favorite things to do in Dream Theater is for John Petrucci and I to play unison tight burning riffs together. The idea is to get so locked rhythmically that the effect becomes like an arrow shot directly into the listeners brain. The goal is to be completely in sync. That’s what makes the part work. Often in recordings we will pan my part a little to one side and his part a little to the the other to give some nice clarity as well. This is a great example of that type of section. I put a lot of fingering in this notation, so right from the beginning of your practice you should adhere to it and get your fingers trained and your muscle memory going. The riff starts out reasonably enough, but then at measure 6 it goes into hyper drive. It’s all about control, and the only way to get a grip on this is to dust off that metronome or put a metronome app on your mobile device and use it! Let me repeat myself here with something I say all the time. Start practicing this very slow and increase speed gradually. The temptation (because most of us are lazy) is to avoid this and just try to play it fast without the metronome. It doesn\'t work that way! You can\'t avoid practicing the right way, because you need to develop control- especially when it comes to playing riffs like this live, when the excitement is sure to take over. Notice the bit of respite, when at the end of bar 9 and into 10 the left hand helps out by poking out some starting notes. it’s a slight brain and finger release and will help get the part played accurately. I also want to point out measure 5 and the sextuplet. Don’t get all excited about that word by the way. In music it means a grouping of six notes performed in the time of four. It’s also a Dream Theater/JR type thing to throw in different groupings to add rhythmic interest and make sure we never get bored! Think about our song Beyond This Life! It’s also a cool thing and fun to be able to throw different groupings into the mix within your own music! :)
Although this piano segment is not as technically difficult as many of the riffs we feature in the OC, the technique used to achieve the desired effect is really important to master. It is related to something I call “songwriter piano.” Every songwriter should learn it. The technique is easy on the surface but harder when you get into it. Comping with simple chords is an art form in itself. It requires a good sense of rhythmic groove and a lightness and ease of touch. One of the interesting things which applies to my general style within this type of play is the lightness of the thumb and its role in creating this kind of sound.
The thumb can be used as a rhythmic filler on beats that are not as strong. As early as measure 3 for example, on the third beat, notice how the thumb plays the low D before the chord on beat four.
It can be thought of as a preparation note for the chord and should be played very lightly. Same goes for the G on beat three of measure 7. If you play these notes too strongly or with stiffness, it will not sound right. Another example is the last quarter note of bar 14 (the G). Don’t play these notes with a deliberate-hard touch. Get used to these in between notes being a lighter touch. A great example of this point is actually on the last line at bar 43. All the in-between thumb notes are just there to keep the groove happening and should be played more lightly then the chords around it.
One of the most important things to learn in life is having a balance of mind and body. In keyboard playing, this skill is something you will need to develop! It’s about basic control. Picture yours truly walking out on stage and playing in front of 50,000 people. The first rush of energy could be enough to cause me to play twice as fast as the band. Then add in that the coldness in my hands from nerves could cause me to lose much of whatever accuracy I thought I had! There are techniques that I and professionals everywhere use to make sure that when you are under pressure you can still perform!
Some are standard techniques while others come from my personal experience.
Let\'s put some to the test now with Behind the Veil. The first technique involves practicing with a metronome in a slow and focused manner. You have to start at a tempo MUCH slower then normal and keep your playing very controlled and even. The temptation in a lot of cases is to rush or want to play the section a whole lot faster. Resist this temptation! Start at a BPM of 165 where each pulse is an eighth note! (That way all your starting eights in the notation will be to an individual click.) When you feel this is smooth and you are not rushing or making mistakes, advance the metronome by a couple of BPM. At measure nine the fast sixteenth notes begin. This riff is based on inversions of the chords. Since I practice chordal inversions a lot it is somewhat natural for me to cycle through them. If you are not used to this it is important keyboard practice, and this Veil riff will get you going.
Mind the fingering because building a structure of solid fingering is everything at the piano. Also try to play it with the same fingering every time. Muscle memory is a big part of learning to play anything on a physical instrument. The other technique this riff contains is the idea of opening and closing your hand while playing. Look at measure 15 where you have to quickly change your scale like approach and open your hand on the 3rd and 4th beat and then quickly change back to a more closed hand position in bar 16.
Remember that patience is king here and mastering this just takes time!
I remember being in the studio and listening to John Petrucci working out the chords for this song on his acoustic guitar. I thought what he was working on sounded so nice but perhaps needed a little JR synthesizer touch to bring it firmly into the DT domain. At first it seemed like an odd idea to introduce this type of solo to the acoustic sound of this piece, but after some thought we loved the idea!
The solo is a bit of a Keith Emerson tribute! Very Lucky Man in nature… The score indicates all the pitch swoops, and you should adhere to that to create the right sound. I set my pitch bend range to 24 semitones so I could get a large sweep.
One thing to notice about this solo is the rhythmic phrasing. Sometimes I played with the placement of notes in a particular phrase so that the accents occur in a non-standard location. Measure 5 is an example.
The melodic phrasing of the first three notes leads naturally into the E of the second beat but the downbeat is on the G# right on beat 1.
It’s kind of subtle but you should be aware of the slight twist there!
In measure 6, the way the line turns at beat 3 into beat 4 is interesting. You should bust out the old metronome (or app) when you practice and really stay true to the rhythmic values in the solo.
Play close attention to some of the helpful right hand left hand indications. It will help get you through bits like in measure 9 where the left hand takes over on the fifth beat temporarily. Also notice the casual grouping of five sixteenths right there. It is definitely a Dream Theater type thing to have groupings like that. Another thing to keep in mind is the legato or connected nature of this section. I use my sustain pedal in addition to playing legato to make sure there are no unwanted gaps between the notes. Finally take a look at how I alternate between a scalar approach like at the beginning and then sometimes go to a more chordal arpeggiation like at measure 8 and 12. It’s musically nice to mix those elements up a bit!
This is another very fun section of keyboard-heavy Dream Theater music. Harmonically it mixes in some of my favorite elements- like an ELP type sound, created by the sus chords (like the first chord), combined with some bluesy ideas (like the flatted 5th Ab on beat 3 of the first measure) and a more modern classical type approach where I’m playing with dissonances, like what I introduce in measure 6 with the Bb and C#. This first harmonic fusion idea lasts until the change at measure 9, where you have a chance to work on your syncopation. One of the big challenges of this whole passage starts at measure 11 where not only are you syncopated but you have to put your hands on a lot of chords very quickly! This takes time. At first it seems very difficult but over the course of practice and building up speed, what once seemed impossible will become possible. The first challenge is figuring out all those notes! It\'s a handful.
The Jordanism (kinda zappa like) starting at measure 13 is mostly a whole tone vibe with some variation. To bring out this line it’s important that each finger have some strength, especially at measure 16 where the notes occur very quickly. Even with the speed needed, you need to have good articulation of each note to make it sound good. Pay close attention to the fingering.
Measure 17 introduces another idea. I remember having this riff come to me at the writing sessions. At first I had no idea what meter I was playing, but it seemed cool, so I showed it to the other guys (although they gave me that look like I was nuts). Mangini was all over it with me and we counted it out and figured out what was going on. This is another example of a passage where feeling the fastest inner rhythm (in this case 16th notes) is crucial. Its the only way to accurately play those measures of 7/16. Also notice the way the left hand fits in with the right. This is a great technique to develop, and hopefully you will spend time to get the hang of this. Some of my most effective prog creations are done by coming up with interesting hand interactions. In general I often practice putting my left hand where my right hand is not! Once you get this whole section down, there should be a special certificate of keyboard prog wizdom that you receive. Let me know when you get it going. I would love to see that!
This is a really fun section. The hardest thing about the part is getting your right hand in place after you poke out the left hand notes in measure 1 through 4. I think for anybody this is one of those keyboard bits where it just takes time to get your hands educated as to what needs to happen. This type of sound is created by a pattern based on 4th chords. It is so sad that there is no way around practicing because it takes so much patience. You will have to go slowly and really get the feel of how the hands work together and where they need to be. After that you can reap the rewards and enjoy!
Measure 5 is a strong deliberate sound with powerful hits between your right and left hand. It\'s very Jordan like because the hands play at different times. Notice the cool 4th chords on beat three of measure 5. Very prog.
Measure 9 is another chance to work on your inversion technique. Its very pianistic and also important in general to be able to cycle through inversions. I use that technique as a compositional and improvisational helper all the time. Often it sounds cool and its fun to play!
At measure 17 the hands again fall at different times which offers a cool syncopation. Measure 23 is the maximum example of this type of technique! Please don’t curse me when you are practicing this! Start slow people. Think of it as another opportunity for you to work on this technique and become a keyboard wizard yourself.
I love when we get into our Bach mode and start doing cool counterpoint. Although you are looking at the keyboard line only, in the audio example this musical line directly interacts as counterpoint with the guitar and bass!
It’s not necessarily fun for all of you to hear but playing something like this really relies on a firm foundation in playing scales! The first part up until measure 12 is very linear. I have some LH indications in there that are helpful for you to follow in order to play this.
Measure 20 introduces a part I wrote after John Petrucci wrote his line on guitar. I wrote the chords and the bass line after notating the guitar part and then proceeded to figure out what would make for good counterpoint and harmony for bass and keyboard.
When you practice this you will want to put on an eighth note click. It is the smallest division in this section and the one you need to be in touch with and internalize.