Keyboards for Live Performance: Techniques and Technology


Authored by Adriana Balic


Course Code: OPIAN-405

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 4

Level 4

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


This Keyboards for Live Performance course is an exploration of all things keyboard in live performance. The course uses a computer-driven keyboard rig with acoustic and electric pianos, organ, synthesizers, synth bass, strings, and brass. You will develop an understanding of keyboard hardware, computer technology and software, basic synthesis, sound design, sampling, music theory with regards to soloing, time-feel and groove, keyboard hand independence and technique, authentic ways to perform string and horn parts, musical styles, and effective performance skills.

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You will learn from iconic keyboardists and keyboard artists by listening to their musicality, keyboard sound production, and watching their performances. We will also discuss the history of keyboards, synths and software synths, as well as the innovations that served keyboard advancements (MIDI, computers, internet, DAWs, and VSTs). You will learn how to edit sound parameters to imitate the original recordings, but also to create new sounds for keyboard features and solos. And you will learn how to create splits and layers to be able to cover more than one keyboard part in a song using one keyboard.

Most importantly, every week, you will record a compelling live visual and musical performance synthesizing (yes, pun intended) your understanding of the week's topics. You will present your newly acquired skill sets via unedited video performances, which will include demonstrations of creative musical arrangements of existing song material and impressive solo keyboard features. The course will support an understanding of a professional keyboardist's responsibilities and best practices. We'll emphasize continuing professional development and growth for success and longevity as a live performing keyboardist.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Create a computer-driven keyboard rig using live rig software
  • Use live rig software for live performance, including knowing internal sound libraries and how to edit sound parameters
  • Identify specific keyboard parts in a song, recreate the recorded keyboard sounds, then learn to play the keyboard part or parts and perform them live
  • Prepare, plan, and execute a keyboard solo, and a keyboard feature
  • Play with a solid groove, time-feel, and technique, as well as hand independence
  • Perform string and horn parts with authenticity
  • Incorporate nuances of musical style in performance
  • Create layers and splits on the keyboard to cover many different keyboard parts
  • Create musical arrangements for keyboard performances
  • Prepare for live auditions and video performance auditions
  • Create compelling live visual and musical performances
  • Describe the responsibilities of a successful professional keyboardist
  • Continue to nurture growth in a keyboard career, including self-care, professional development, and keeping active in musical communities
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: Build the Rig: Acoustic Pianos and Effects

  • Rig Building Blocks: Then and Now
  • Build Your Professional Rig
  • The Keyboard’s Role in a Rhythm Section
  • Live Rig Software, Acoustic Pianos, Screen Controls, and Concert Mode
  • 1950s and 1960s Keyboardists
  • Assignment 1: ‘Great Balls of Fire’/‘Wild Child’ or ‘What I’d Say’

Lesson 2: Twenty-First Century Live Keyboard Careers

  • Keyboard Live Performance: Local
  • Keyboard Live Performance: Touring and Travel Dates
  • Keyboard Musical Directors
  • The Artist
  • The Keyboard ‘Sub’
  • Getting the Gig
  • Assignment 2: Reflecting from the Future

Lesson 3: Live Rig and Electric Pianos

  • 1970s and Early ’80s Keyboardists and Their Signature Electric Piano Sounds
  • Live Rig Software, Electric Pianos, Clavinet, and Mellotron
  • Groove, Time-Feel
  • Solo Elements Using the Blues, Mixolydian, Major, and Minor Pentatonic Scales
  • Assignment 3: ‘Good Thing,’ ‘Rosanna,’ ‘Take Me to the Pilot,’ or ‘Cornflake Girl’

Lesson 4: Hammond B3 and Organ Technique

  • The Hammond B3 Influence and Its Icons
  • Drawbars Explained, and Two Manuals and Bass Pedals Explained
  • B3 Performance Language and B3 Controls
  • Perform Mode: B3 in Performance
  • Solo Elements Using Repetition, Rhythmic, and Melodic Variation
  • Assignment 4: Performing a B3 Solo

Lesson 5: The Musicality in Keyboard Performance

  • Icons: Aretha Franklin, Carole King, and Patrice Rushen
  • Icons: Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Billy Joel
  • Songwriters and Keyboard Vocal Accompaniment
  • Current Wunderkind Jacob Collier
  • Outside the Box
  • Assignment 5: Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, or Carole King

Lesson 6: The Keyboard Feature

  • The Emotional Connection to Your Playing
  • The Physicality of Keyboard Performance
  • Being in the Moment, Understanding Flow
  • Solo Elements: Technical ‘Chops’ Display
  • Showmanship and Shaping Your Live Keyboard Feature
  • Assignment 6: Your Ultimate Keyboard Feature

Lesson 7: 1970s Analog Synths and Synthesis Basics

  • Synth Photo Album and Family Tree
  • Wendy Carlos and the MOOG Synthesizer
  • Synthesizer Fundamentals
  • Synthesizer Types and Synthesis Methods
  • Electronic Godfathers: Kraftwerk
  • Iconic Synth Performers
  • Assignment 7: Performing Synthesizers

Lesson 8: 1980s Analog and Digital Synths, Synth Artists, and MIDI

  • The Birth of MIDI
  • The 1980s Keyboards and the New Digital Synthesizers
  • Keyboard Greats of the 1980s
  • Synth Artist Icon Thomas Dolby and Synth Soundscapes
  • Synth Artist Icon Howard Jones and MainStage Layers and Splits
  • Assignment 8: Synth Vocabulary

Lesson 9: Legendary Synth Riffs and Keyboard Synth Bass

  • Legendary Synth Riffs
  • Keyboard Bass Sounds and Options
  • Iconic Keyboard Bass Performances in Funk, Dance, EDM (1970s-Present)
  • Locking the Synth Bass and Drums
  • Hand Independence: Left Hand Synth Bass and Right Hand Synth Parts
  • Assignment 9: Performing Keyboard Synth Bass

Lesson 10: Strings and Horns: Instrumentation and Arranging for Live

  • Instrumentation for Strings and Horns
  • Performing Authentic String Articulations and Tone
  • Performing Horn Articulations and Tones Authentically
  • Arranging Strings and Horn Parts for Live Performance
  • Synth, Strings, and Voice Pads: Creating Soundscapes for Live Performance
  • Assignment 10: String and Horn Arrangements

Lesson 11: Reproducing the Recording for Live Performance

  • Song Cover and Determining the Keyboard Parts
  • Best Practices in Creating Song Patches for Live Performance
  • Quick Sampler and Live Performance
  • Initiating Pre-Recorded Tracks
  • Performing Live Tips and Troubleshooting
  • Assignment 11: Live Performance

Lesson 12: Be Ready for Your Keyboard Career

  • Be Ready for the Call!
  • Gear Checklist
  • Safety First, Self-Care, and Travel
  • Staying Current with Updates, Products, and Trends
  • Are You a ‘Triple Threat’? Or a ‘Quadruple Threat’?
  • Assignment 12: Final Bio and Performance


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Piano Scales 101Piano Chords 101Piano and Keyboard Techniques for Session Musicians and one of the following: Intermediate KeyboardBlues and Rock Keyboard Techniques or Pop/Rock Keyboard, or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.
Students should be able to:

  • Perform scales at the level presented in the aforementioned courses
  • Perform chords (including inversions) at the level presented in the aforementioned courses



  • Students are required to record video while playing along with a backing track for their assignments. Options for recording video include:
    • Smartphone
    • Digital camera
    • External webcam
  • Note: The camera view must be from above, recording the keys right side up. It is imperative that the videos show the student's fingerings. You may need certain accessories to accomplish this, such as a goose-neck camera holder, tripod, etc.


  • One of the following:
    • MainStage 3 or higher (Mac only)
    • Gig Performer 4 or higher


Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Adriana Balic

Author & Instructor

Adriana Balic has toured the world as a member of popstar P!NK’s band since 2003, on keys, backing vocals, and guitar. In November 2019, Balic completed P!NK’s Beautiful Trauma World Tour which broke records, playing to over 3 million people and making it the tenth highest grossing tour in Billboard Boxscore’s history. Balic’s media credits include Saturday Night Live, Apple Music, Top of the Pops, iHeartRadio Live, and American Idol. Other artists Balic has played with include Gwen Stefani, Wrabel, Sheila E., The Rubens, Brenda Russell, Chris Stapleton, Peabo Bryson, Norman Brown, Everett Harp, Il Divo, Don Grusin, and the US National Touring Theater Production of Jersey Boys. She plays Roland keyboards and is a Roland Artist.

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As an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, Balic has been teaching keys, voice, and songwriting in the Popular Music program since 2010. She has also been on faculty at Berklee Online as the Pop/Rock Vocals instructor since 2010. Additionally in 2016, Balic completed a Master of Arts in Learning Technologies from Pepperdine University with her thesis and capstone project on video and hybrid instruction, blended learning, flipped classroom, and online platforms.

Balic, a Vancouver native, holds bachelor’s degrees in (Classical) Music and Music Education from the University of British Columbia in Canada and a diploma in Professional Music from Berklee College of Music. With life stories to share from both stage and school, Balic recognizes the uniqueness of each student and designs individualized 21st century instruction and strategies for their evolving artistry. In 2017, College Magazine named Balic as one of the “10 Female Music Teachers That Inspire Us.” Read Less


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

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