1. It’s okay to break free from the chord chart.
It is common for church keyboard players to just play chord after chord after chord. However, sometimes it is better to break away from the chord chart and play an arpeggiated pattern or some other type of sequence.
Keep in mind, this only works when there are other instruments, such as an electric or acoustic guitar, holding down the chords.
2. Simplicity is almost always the best option.
Many piano players are classically trained. Then, when they start playing worship music, they gravitate towards making their part as complicated as the classical music they are used to playing.
Although there are times for this in worship, they are far and few between. Don’t be afraid of simplicity. No one in the congregation is grading how good of a keyboard player you are based on the complexity of the music.
3. Come prepared, but don’t be afraid to change things up.
It is important that you come to rehearsal with a plan, having your part nailed down. However, sometimes what you have practiced does not work with the rest of the band.
When this happens, don’t hesitate to try something different. It may be as simple as taking things up an octave or switching from playing chords to some type of pattern or sequence.
4. Play in a different register than the other instrumentalists.
It is common for the electric guitarist, acoustic guitarist, and keyboardist to all hang out in the same register. They all just chord along in the mid-register, not realizing they are all doing same thing. This makes for a muddy, small sound. Each instrument gets lost in the mix and the song loses its interest and impact.
To fix this, someone needs to break away. The electric guitarist could go into a lead part, or the keyboardist could jump an octave and start playing an arpeggiated pattern. The possibilities are endless.
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5. Don’t forget about dynamics!
New musicians tend to have one dynamic – loud. After all, they want to be heard!
I have seen it time and time again: the keyboardist starts a song that should be soft and intimate, but they are banging away at the keys like it is some big moment. Don’t let this be you. Pay attention to how the song is moving and use dynamics to add impact and interest to the music.
6. Use a pad to eliminate awkward transitions.
Transitions between songs can be tough, especially when you are going between songs in different keys that don’t get along. I have found that a simple pad can fix this problem.
As soon as the last note of the previous song has almost died off, fade in your pad for the next song. Then, let it ‘breath’ for a minute before the song actually starts. Although this isn’t always the best option, it is a good fallback.
7. Don’t hesitate to try different patches.
Piano players (including myself) tend to be partial to the traditional piano sound – that is what we fell in love with! However, don’t be afraid to try something different, like a pad, strings, or rhodes.
You can also experiment using a regular piano patch but adding delay and reverb to change things up a bit. Be creative!
8. Music theory has a tendency to cloud out creativity – don’t let it.
Those trained in music theory have a hard time changing things up. They want to stick to the exact chords that are written and have a tough time playing a lead or pattern instead of chords. It is also hard for them to play by ear as they are used to following note-by-note sheet music.
Don’t get me wrong – music theory has it’s place. But, don’t let it get in the way. Sometimes you just need to get out of your head and let creativity flow.