If you’re finding yourself with a wee bit more time on your hands during lockdown, and would like a few piano-for-church tips to work on, here we go!
Obviously every church is different, and every pianist is different, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to being useful, but these may be helpful if you are used to playing from music rather than improvising, or if your confidence or ear just need a bit of training.
church music is often a bit over complicated, (e.g old hymns written with organs and choirs in mind rather than pianos and bands) or else super simple (maybe just with chords sheets available), and so both require a bit of interpretation.
Complicated Example : Let’s consider briefly Getty’s “Holy Spirit living word of God‘. It has (arguably) WAY too many chords in the standard Getty released piano score. Any guitarist would not be your friend if you expect them to play them all, and even if you’re a solo pianist, it might be harder for you and your congregation to feel a clear pulse when there are so many chords going on. So why not have a look at it and see how few you can get away with playing, without losing the feel of the song. My guess will be it’ll be one or two chords per bar.
Simple Example : Let’s think of Papa and Boswells ‘The king in all his beauty‘ Here you are given a chord breakdown with roughly a chord a bar. Brilliant, but leaves the ball in your court as to knowing how much to play. One or two chords a bar is great, but sing along with yourself and listen for the little silences between lines, where perhaps you think about what kind of simple fill you could do to keep things moving and interesting.
Try playing along with a bunch of recordings, for the simple exercise of learning to listen to what is around you. What groove is the guitar/drums playing? Try and fit into that. Is there a solo instrument? Is there a lead singer? Then you maybe don’t need to play the melody line all the time.
Then try again on your own with no other instruments. What should change? What does the congregation NEED to sing well? (Clue.. bass line to get their pitch, and pulse to get their speed)
So if the congregation needs a solid pulse to follow, then even if everything else is falling apart, make sure you play it confidently. If you have housemates or kids, why not get them to run in circles around you while you try and stick to what you’re playing?! Good practice for what can often be a chaotic and noisy sunday morning service..
And you also ideally want to be confident enough that you can sing at the same time. Even if you’re not heard, you’ll be a visual lead to your congregation as you come in with each section, as well as modelling how singing is meant to be a corporate activity, to encourage and build the whole church up together. This just takes practice. The more familiar you are with the piano itself, and the words you’re singing, the better.
Have fun with it! What a good excuse to spend some extra time praising the Lord.