Musicianship Development: Keyboard Skills

As we continue to perform a self-evaluation of our skills as musicians, consider your ability at the keyboard.  Can you play a simple melody to teach a song or vocal part?  Do you have the skills to play a vocal reduction or a standard hymn setting with both hands?  If necessary, could you provide adequate accompaniment for a service?

Each question reveals varying levels of piano proficiency.  It is essential that all worship leaders be able to at least play a simple melody on the keyboard.  It is not unreasonable to expect that they can play a four-part hymn or a basic vocal reduction that you would find in the majority of the choral anthems of the church.

The ability to play for a service may not be necessary in all situations.  If you are guitarist, you can probably get through an acoustic set and not inhibit the service at all.  Accapella music can be beautiful, but it is not always an option for a congregation that does not practice this type of singing on a regular basis.  If you are a vocalist leading worship, I feel as though you should be able to provide a simple chordal accompaniment at least.  I’m not suggesting that you must be able to play a beautiful solo on the instrument.  I am simply suggesting that when you receive the inevitable phone call on Sunday morning that your pianist is ill that you have a basic skill set to get through the morning if a replacement is not available on such short notice.

How do I develop these skills?  All of you reading have already realized that piano lessons are one avenue to accomplish this goal.  As a pianist, I am a huge proponent of this approach, but I also realize that it is a tremendous commitment and may not be the best option for your circumstance.  There is another method to consider.  Rather than enrolling in traditional lessons, seek out someone who can teach you to play “by ear.”  A thorough knowledge of chord progressions and the various ways you can play chords can give you a head start on getting yourself through a service, especially if you want to hear more than the notes that are printed in the hymnal.  Many students find that instruction in “playing by ear” allows them to progress more quickly and begin playing pleasing arrangements right away.  The best situation, in my opinion, is to have a teacher that can provide instruction in both methods — chords and reading — and learn to marry the two over time.

I hate to tell you, but there is no quick fix to this developmental issue.  It takes time, commitment, and practice to develop skills at the keyboard.  Rather than focusing on the negative aspect, see the potential that this practice time can have;  you will see connections right away between what you are learning and your primary instrument.  Hopefully you will find that the study of the piano is also promoting growth in this other area.  Above all else, ask God to help you as you pursue this new skill so that you might bring Him more glory through your music.

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