Hammond Organ: What any musician can learn from the ultimate ‘less is more’ instrument

The Hammond Organ is a mysterious beast. It must’ve seemed like space-age technology when it emerged in the 1930s, and even now the instrument retains something of the Dr Who about it.

For a period in the 1960s there was hardly a chart hit that didn’t feature a Hammond organ, with organists like Booker T Jones becoming household names.

Having been out of the spotlight, the Hammond is riding a retro wave back onto the airwaves with ace players like Cory Henry of Snarky Puppy and Woody Goss of Vulfpeck delighting new generations.


Some tunes put the Hammond front and centre – Booker T’s Green Onions being the obvious example – but it’s best known as something of a cameo instrument. Drifting in for a riff or pad here-and-there throughout a song, really elevating the moments it features on. It’s a delicate balance to strike, you love it when it surges in but too much Hammond diminishes its impact.

It’s why Hammond players probably have some of the sharpest musical sensibilities, (and the most restraint) of any band member. A lot of us musicians could learn from the golden rule of Hammond; less is more!

Learning that playing less, or with less complexity, usually sounds better, is something all mature musicians learn, but it’s easy to forget.

The playing of organists like Billy Preston ‘the fifth Beatle’, and Booker T in his session work with Stax should serve as a reminder to us all. Absence makes the heart grow fonder!

There’s even an organist called Ken Lupper who does some killer Hammond playing on Aretha Franklin’s album ‘Amazing Grace’, but doesn’t appear to have any other recorded output. He took the less-is-more statement very literally, and was presumably content to keep groovin’ in Church.

The Hammond was an american invention, but there’s plenty of Hammond pedigree on the British side of the Atlantic. Players like Steve Winwood and Jon Lord brought their own style to the instrument.

And in this spirit we’re thrilled to welcome British Hammond player Joe Glossop as one of our MusicGurus. He’s put together a course aimed at teaching anyone to play like an organist rather than a pianist playing organ. He covers tonnes of techniques, tunes and tones from greats like Booker T, Jimmy Smith, and Jimmy McGriff.

Checkout Joe in the extract below, demonstrating a Steve Winwood Hammond ‘moment’ i’m sure you’ll have heard. And check out the full course on MusicGurus here.

And remember that ‘Hammond State of Mind’ next time you’re on the band stand!


By | 2017-10-19T11:14:10+00:00 October 18th, 2017|Uncategorised|1 Comment

About the Author:

Liam is part of the team at MusicGurus. He is a music journalist and keen amateur jazz musician.

One Comment

  1. Chuck 19th June 2019 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    Cool article. There are literally hundreds of players and videos on youtube of Black gospel Hammond players. Its a whole school of playing. So many great players who aren’t known outside of the church.

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