The keyboard (both piano and organ varieties) ruled the worship music landscape for a long time. It still does in many places. However, over the last 50 years, the guitar has made itself at home in many churches, replacing keyboards as the lead instrument. Where does that leave the keyboard? Here are my top 5 tips for playing the keyboard in a worship band ensemble:
Keep it simple. Do you notice the trend? The same rule applies to every instrument: less is more. When things get too busy there is no room for the song to develop. This is a chronic problem I notice from keyboard players. I guess having that many notes at your fingertips is tempting. Resist the urge to play busy parts. Occasionally force yourself to play with only one hand. Instead of playing chords all the time, try playing a simple counter-melody.
Share the lead. Keyboardists are used to taking the lead. As a pianist or organist, they are used to setting the tempo, giving the downbeat, and helping the assembly sing together. Some of these skills are counterintuitive when playing as a member of a worship band ensemble. Sometimes the guitar or drums needs to push the song in order for it to sound right. This requires the keyboard to relinquish control over the tempo, feel, and sometimes even the tonal structure of the song.
Explore the tones. If you’re playing a piano, I guess you’re stuck. But if you have an electronic keyboard or synth, don’t just stay on the piano sound. Try everything. There are virtually unlimited amounts of patches online. Make a list of the tones you think could have an application.
Study B3. Every church keyboardist should know how to make the Hammond B3 organ sound good. It is the quintessential sound for many churches, and also the glue that holds together a lot of rock, blues, and jazz music. Get on YouTube and figure out how to make it work. Get a lesson from someone who knows.
Deviate from the page. Rarely will you be able to play exactly what is written out for your keyboard part. If it is fully composed, you will probably have to simplify what you play to some extent (following tip 1 and 2). Or if all you have is a chord chart you can’t just play the changes on whole notes. Don’t be afraid to leave the page and create your own part.
This is a video I recorded on March 4, 2010 while touring Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We were very fortunate to hear the cantor and chorus rehearsing the deggua or “church song” in the cathedral. The video also shows the beautiful stained glass windows and the tomb of Haile Selassie.
The sacred music of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is very old. The hymnary is attributed to Saint Yared, a scholar who lived in Aksum in the 6th century. This is perhaps the most astonishing thing about our journey toward adoption because Deacon’s “finding place” was in front of Saint Yared Music School in Addis Ababa in 2006. I don’t think it was a coincidence that my profession/livelihood/calling happens to be church music and that is where Deacon was found! That news was an epiphany for me. Just as God had used music in my life to bring me into the faith and into a relationship with Him as an adopted son, God used a music school to make me a father and teach me about faith, love, and hope.
Learn more about Trinity Cathedral HERE. Learn more about Ethiopian Orthodox Liturgy HERE.