Hymn Playing Advice

27 05 2009

I have decided to get back to the original theme of my blog and give some advice about how to play piano for church. This blog post I want to cover congregational playing.

Here’s what I do:

Right hand: Octaves

Left hand: Pattern:: Octave chord

Let me break this down a little. My piano teacher taught me that to have a generally fuller sound in your playing play the lead note in octaves. Just doing this changed the sound of my playing for the better. Eventually I was able to add in fill in notes. It really changes the sound for the better and it does really sound good.

Left hand. To play the general patter octave chord you must have a knowledge of chords. If you say I kind of know them well then practice finding them. I took my hymnal and wrote in the chords so I could practice identifying them. I don’t want to brag but I can identify them more proficiently…not to the point where I can do it while I’m playing but if I had a couple more seconds I could. Let me add this, I can identify some, like the I, IV, V some of the minor ones are harder but I’m getting better. It’s really just practice. 

After a while I found that the octave chord got boring so sometimes you can play octave chord but instead of making the chord just a block chord you could make it a dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth note. I’m sorry I forgot to say that the octave chord is the octave = a quarter note, chord = a quarter note. This doesn’t work for 3/4 time, then you have to play octave, chord, chord. If it’s 6/8 time or anything like that you then can’t play quarter notes…obviously, well you can but it doesn’t work out well. Use a little bit of common sense or this blog post will be forever long.

I hope this helps. This will hopefully change your playing for the better and please remember to take it slow. I don’t want to give the idea that I got this over night. It took me a couple weeks to really get it and more weeks to incorporate it into my playing.

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7 responses

27 05 2009
Michael Kestler

Very good summary! This is exactly what I’ve done for years now.

Usually I play the octave chords in the left hand if I’m high enough, but when I go lower, the filler notes have to get dropped because they start sounding muddy. Then I just play the octave, with maybe one extra note occasionally.

I try to use as much of the bass as I can to add depth, and plenty of arpeggios to the high treble, and sometimes, if the song is right, I’ll play the melody with maybe one filler note in the treble for a few measures or even a few notes.

Also, chord substitutions are great to use if no other harmony instruments are playing with you. We don’t have an organist, only a flutist, and not many people can sing harmony in my church, so I can substitute lots of chords. For instance, at the end of the verse, I transition into the chorus with a 5th.

27 05 2009
Daniel

Yeah. Interesting. I use the verse to chorus transition except sometimes I use a 4th/5th. (i.e. in the key of C I’d do an F major chord over a G in the left hand. Not a G chord just a G octave.)

28 05 2009
Michael Kestler

Now that I think about it, I guess that is what I do as well.

I’ve never had a teacher for improvisation either, over the years I’ve just picked up a lot of things from listening to other pianists. The person who shaped me the most was David Chamberlain. I can’t say that I like a lot of the synthesizers at Faith Music Missions, but his style of playing them and the piano was the one that I copied. Daniel Hopkins is the person I sound like the most now though.

28 05 2009
Michael Kestler

Sorry I forgot to say something about it, but Greg Howlett has a lot on chord substitution. In fact, all of his lessons are very helpful.

28 05 2009
Ayesha

Thanks guys. I guess, I do ‘some’ of this stuff already– but am not satisfied. My problem is , since I am the pianist at our (small) church–I rarely hear other pianists. I find a lot of tutorials & hymn arrangements on youtube, but haven’t found any ‘really good’ pianists accompanying congregational singing (that I can listen to on a regular basis)–I'[m sure there’s some out there-just don’t know where to look. I notice some of the Christian Colleges (West Coast, Pensacola, etc…) have great pianists, but when I go to their bookstore websites, the CD’s are of offertory-type hymn arrangements, not congregational stlye. I’m going through Greg Howlett’s DVD course now & its great, but its mostly for developing stand alone hymn arrangements, not congregational style.

28 05 2009
Daniel

I know what you mean. My church is small and I’m one of two pianist and I work the hardest with the hymns. Dr. Mike Zachary from Golden State Baptist College is a really good pianist. Here’s a link to a page where he gives some lessons on playing, maybe you can incorporate some of this. I went to one of his seminars once and he’s an amazing pianist.
http://pianomz.com/playing_for_church.html

12 07 2009
Hymn Playing Advice 2 « A Musician's Mind

[…] Playing Advice 2 12 07 2009 So in this previous blog post I talked about hymn playing and basically what I do but I just realized I left half of it. I […]

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