The piano or keyboard is known as the King of all instruments, given the sure frequency range, ability to dominate the music, roots of many musicians who study music theory, ability to easily switch to unlimited number of sounds or effects.
However, latest worship music is increasingly inclusive of other band instruments. In praise and worship, there seems to be a clear shift of focus from keyboard music to keyboard sounds.
Here are some tips to take on a new mindset as a keyboardist to stay fresh and relevant in your sound of worship.
1) Understand Co-Leadership
If you are in a team that is predominantly music-led by keyboardists, then chances are we dominate the intros, verse, chorus..you name it. Learn to let go and prefer an acoustic guitar intro. The worship team reflects of God's appreciation of various frequencies, timbres, textures, quirks. Embrace and prefer one another. Let different sections of a song or different songs bring out the uniqueness of other instruments. Musically, it becomes a buffet feast for your listener's ears and imaginative minds, which are crucial faculties used in worship.
Prefer others. Be prepared to let go. As a team, you win much more.
2) Understand the power of brevity
Haven't you noticed that most of the impactful 'hit' songs have a rather simple role to keyboard playing ?
Think of songs like "Forever (I Sing Halleluyah)" so simple the role, but yet again simplicity requires self-control (one of the fruits of the Spirit).
Simplicity is ultimate power. One of the best ways to apply this. When accompanying your worship leader, give space for their single melody note to lead your chords. See the macro. Listen to the resonance between voice and the keys. Truly, well-selected chords are a whole lot better than more thumping and comping of RH (right hand) chords.
2) Rethink RH Rhythm
There is too much of right hand 1234 comping. Don't we keyboardists know that we are operating around really strong rhythm players like acoustic guitarists and drummers. There is no need to emphasise the down beat further. My short tip to keyboardists. Let go of the 3rd beat. Leave the 4th beat for simple 1 note, 2 note fills or simply enjoy the space and prefer others.
Maybe the song can also better take flight if we were to innovate through the vocal spaces with experimental fills. That way we serve, let go and grow much better.
3) Rethink the use of Chords
There is a place for almost every possible conceivable chord in the worship universe. I once attended a seminar by bassist Abraham Laboriel. This line he shared stuck to my head for a really long time for the last 25 years. "Black or white, all these notes are holy" Anyway, in context, he was sharing how in the music industry he had shared Christ with top musicians who eventually became christian recording artistes for Integrity label. But, in our chords context, the Major 7 9 11 13, minor..., diminished, augmented, suspended chords, dominant 7ths, 13ths, can be used. However, it does take wisdom and consideration for others to know how and when to implement it.
Disclaimer: All these are suggested more for personal use. Most guitarists wouldn't be familiar with these chords. Takes active aligning to play it out together.
4) Perfect those unique keyboard intros.
Take full advantage of these songs. The song arrangers were thinking of you when they created these great keyboard intros :) Search out the youtube links and study play them both seriously and elegantly. Forever (I Sing Halleluyah) / I Give you my heart / Worthy is the Lamb / Above All / 无价之宝 ／...
Of course, experiment different sounds and layering while you are at it.
Learn to record your keyboard music on Garageband, LogicPro, Cubase or any of the digital audio workstations you can get hold of. The technology is just so affordable. To me, its an indispensable way to discover SELF-AWARENESS. Understand what it means to quantize your playing.
Every serious keyboardist should learn how to do this. Video yourselves. Observe how your fingers move. Observe your sense of timing. You will immediately start forming your own personal opinions of your own playing. And that is crucial starting point to want to know more about improving yourself.
Even better, find someone whom you can trust to advise you on what's wrong and what could be better.
6) Rediscover The World of sounds (voices)
Get a group of worshipful buddies and have a great time switching between VOICES such as grand piano, electric piano, strings, pads, organ, brass, synth lead, layering etc. Be sensitive to how the sounds touches your band mates and the overall atmosphere. Time to question why we invest in $XXXX amounts of money but only use a few buttons and sounds. Enlarge your personal tent, your sound appetite and grow your sound of worship.
Mainstage 3 is a great way to discover new sounds, functions such as arpeggiator, layering and more.
7) Play all genres and styles of praise and worship songs
Understand the difference between playing fast, medium, slow tempo songs... the cultural differences between chinese, english, hebrew songs, latin-influenced, jazz-influenced... Truly, if you allow yourself to wonder, hidden in the same black and white we have been staring and gotten used to, belies huge undiscovered creativity.
My favourite last words to any worship team that we mentor. It is not healthy to serve without growing in our knowledge of God, as well as the self-knowledge of ourselves and one another. Music is a powerful gift and a grace given to do just that.
Keyboardists, it's high time to take on a new mindset. At the same time, enjoy some of these video instructional samples.