26
Jul
11

Contemporary Keyboard in Worship

Playing keys in a contemporary worship band is a paradox.  The more background (private lessons, experience playing a keyboard in a band with at least two more instruments, and playing a keyboard while you and/or someone else is singing) you have in playing acoustic piano or an electronic keyboard the better.  But once you get started playing with a group, you’ll discover that the simpler and more concise you play your part, the better you’ll sound in the group AND the easier it will be for the group to play with you.  Private lessons are a definite plus.  Lessons teach you where you put your fingers on the keyboard and how you go up and down the keys.  Otherwise you’re limited to the “hunt and peck” method, just like typing on a computer with just a couple of fingers on each hand.  If you haven’t had the blessing of private study, but you’ve already begun to experiment with playing on a keyboard, no worries, you can still benefit from some lessons with a qualified teacher.

One of the nicest things about learning any element of music on any instrument or voice is that all music is universal – if you learn the basics of music on a keyboard and then take up the guitar, everything you learned about music on the piano transfers to the guitar, or the clarinet, or voice, or percussion.  And in 4/4 time, a quarter note gets one count…no matter if you’re singing that quarter note, or playing it on the piano or the flute or the snare drum. I started with piano lessons.  Then when I began to take lessons on the snare drum, I discovered that the music fundamentals that I learned for the piano were the same basics that I needed to know for the snare drum…and the rhythmic studies that I learned on the snare drum helped me with my understanding of piano music.  THEN as began to learn how to play those “fun” chords on the guitar, I could go back to the piano, pluck one string on the guitar at a time and discover what the notes (pitches) were in…say, a C7#9#5 chord. It all works together!!

So…if you’ve had some piano lessons and you want to begin to play keys in a worship band…go for it!  Here are just a few of the beginning musical concepts that you’ll need to play contemporary keyboard:

1) When you’re playing a melody (in an introduction, interlude, or solo passage) on the keys, keep your accompaniment (left hand) SIMPLE (play fewer notes) and do NOT overplay the sustain pedal.  An electronic sustain pedal tends to run all of the notes together and, all too often, ruins the clarity of the instrument.  LISTEN with a critical ear to yourself playing with the group.  In a group, the keyboard is not the center of attention…only a part of the total sound.  If your “runny” sound begins to draw attention to itself (BECAUSE it is runny!), then you’re interfering with the total sound of the ensemble.  Go easy on the sustain pedal.  In faster tempos or more rhythmic songs, you might even experiment with playing without using the sustain pedal at all.  Scary, huh?  Then work on your keyboard chops.

2) When the keyboard part you’re playing is part of the rhythmic accompaniment (in other words, you’re playing chords), keep your rhythmic patterns SIMPLE…say, just play quarter notes in the right hand and bass notes (with a simple rhythmic pattern that either doubles or accents the electric bass part) in the left hand.  If there’s a bass player in your group, you hardly need to play your left hand at all…let the bass player cover the bass notes.

3) Learn to voice chords in all of their inversions.  What is an inversion?  The easiest way to remember inversions is this:  To begin with, most chords have 3, 4 or (sometimes) 5 notes.  A C chord is a 3-note chord, called a triad, and is made up of 1st, 3rd, and 5th tones in the scale.  In the key of C for example those notes would be C, E and G .  Those notes are also (not coincidentally) played with your 1st, 3rd, and 5th fingers. In the fundamental position, the thumb of your right hand plays C, E, and G, with the C on the bottom.  That same chord can also be played with the thumb on the E, the 2nd finger on the G, and 5th finger on the C…OR you can play it with the thumb on G, 3rd finger on C, and 5th finger on E.  The left hand plays a C bass note, regardless of the chord position played in the right hand.  There you have it.  That’s how to play a C chord on the keyboard.  Now all you have to do is to learn all of the other chords in the key of C…then move on to the key of G (one sharp) or F (one flat)!

4) Here’s a great thing to know:  you hardly ever need to use more than 3 fingers in each hand to play contemporary keys.  Most chords in the right hand can be voiced with no more than 3 fingers.  And the left hand almost always plays either one bass note, octaves, or (sometimes for power chords at the “big places” in songs) you can add the 5th in between the outer notes of the octave.

Not as hard as it sounds…remember a G chord is a G chord, no matter what key you’re playing in.  The difference lies in learning the SEQUENCES of chords (how each chord leads to the next chord) and voice leading (using the different positions of chords to smoothly flow from each chord to the next, rather than jumping from one chord in its fundamental position to the next chord in its fundamental position).

Wow…what a truckload of information in just those 3 points.  Confused?  When you actually see these points I’ve written above PLAYED on a keyboard, it makes much more sense. It’s really not as hard as it sounds. After you get used to creating chords on the keyboard, learning them in sequence, playing the bass notes in the left hand, then moving to songs in different keys, you can learn it! So many of the elements and concepts of music are just about numbers…the 7 notes in each scale, intevals (the distance – in steps or half-steps – from any lower note to the note immediately above it) and chords (three or more notes played at the same time) built on the interval from the bottom note to each note above it (ex: a triad in the fundamental position is made when you put your right thumb on the name note of the chord (thumb on a C for a C chord) and then your 3rd finger on the third note (an E) and your 5th finger on the fifth note (a G).  Then just shift your fingers and move upward to the next position of the chord (E,G,C) and so on….

Yes, it takes time and PRACTICE.  You need to get used to hearing the different voicings of the chords and feeling the way your fingers fall on the notes.  It’s worth the practice to be able to give your talent back to the Lord in a worthwhile musical setting.  And don’t overlook any opportunity to get alone with some who can teach you how to do it.  A teacher, sometimes yes, but not always:  when you hear someone play anything (a song, a musical style, a time signature-like 3/4 or 6/8 or any other non-conventional groove) ASK THEM ABOUT IT – say, “How did you play that?”  In most cases, people will tell you stuff like that.  You can learn ANYTHING, ANYWHERE, ANYTIME…AND, You’ll have so much more FUN playing music…AND you’ll become a competent contemporary keyboard player – I guarantee it!  Give your talent back to the Lord as your offering of praise.  He will bless you (and bless others through you)!

“Give to the Lord the glory He deserves.  Bring your offering and come into His courts.”  (Ps 96:8).


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