Archives For Music

Previously we learned how to look at the key signature, rhythm, and structure of a lead sheet.  This time we’ll take some time learning how to build chords and understand chord names within a lead sheet.  Take a look at the video to learn how (email readers, you’ll need to visit I am an Offering to view the video).

I’m beginning to build a page full of helpful sheet music that you can feel free to download and use.  The common chords and inversions sheet music can be found there.

What are some common struggles you have faced when learning to read and play from a lead sheet?

The lead sheet I used in this video is Jesus, Thank You from Sovereign Grace music and can be downloaded for free here.

I run into many musicians who are classically trained and aren’t sure how to read lead sheets. I wanted to post a series of videos that teaches you the basics of reading lead sheets as well as learning how to play the chords written on them.

Check out the video below (Email readers, you’ll need to visit I am an Offering to see the video.)

The lead sheet I used in this video is Jesus, Thank You from Sovereign Grace music and can be downloaded for free here.

Guitar, piano, and sheet music

If you play piano for worship you’ve probably been in one (or both) of these situations.  Your worship leader or band leader has asked you to play “up an octave” so that you don’t “fight with the guitar” or you’ve been asked not to use your left hand at all if there’s a bass player or other low instrument playing with you.  I’ve been on both sides of this situation (telling piano players these very things and being reminded of them myself as I play under the direction of a different worship leader) and wanted to break down the “why” of why this is important.

More Players, More Need for Clarity

Typically when playing piano, someone is used to having free reign of where each hand plays on the keys.  Each hand works together and doesn’t play “on top of” each other.  Imagine if you added a third hand to your piano playing.  Where would it go?  Would you put it in the exact same spot as what your right hand is doing?  Your left hand?  Besides being the only person on the planet with a third hand, which would be awkward (well, maybe a little amazing, but probably more awkward), it would be even more awkward to try and put two hands in the same spot on the keys and expect something that sounds clean to come out.  When another instrument is added to the mix and the piano player plays in the same octave range as that instrument, the pianist is essentially playing what amounts to both hands in one place on the keys.  The sound of the two instruments has begun fighting to be heard clearly.

Think of the Orchestra

People who write and arrange music for an orchestra must be thinking about how to blend and balance instruments in this way all the time, only on a much larger scale.  They must think about how to let the low strings be heard over the low brass, how to keep the whole brass section from overpowering the woodwind section, or when the flute or oboe should cut through the rest of the instruments to be heard clearly.  Essentially worship teams, and members of the worship team, must learn to do this same thing every time they are “arranging” music, only on a smaller scale.

Use the Whole Keyboard or Fretboard

Instead of feeling picked on as a piano player, realize that you have an opportunity to be a musical servant.  It’s much easier for a pianist to play up higher on the keyboard or not play the left hand at all than for guitar players to learn new chord shapes or for bass players to play melody lines.  The pianist has command of 88 keys and has the privilege of learning how to play them in a way that the guitar, bass guitar, and piano can all be heard clearly.

If you’re a guitarist, learn the different chord shapes that lend themselves to playing in a higher position on the fretboard (this is one area that I’ve committed myself to improving as a guitar player myself).  The pianist can then play in the middle of the keyboard where they’re used to playing. Learn to become a humble servant to both your fellow musicians and the music in order to create a much more clear and less muddied sound that draws attention to the lyrics instead of the music.

Does what I’ve written make sense?  How can you apply it to playing along with a vocalist or playing during prayer?

(photo by angelocesare on Flickr)

Over the Grave Album Cover

There’s been one album that was released recently that I’ve been wanting to get my hands on for a long time.  No, it’s not the latest and greatest radio release.  It’s not one everyone in the country is raving about.  It’s an album by a bunch of excellent, no, outstanding musicians from a church in Louisville, Kentucky many of you have probably never heard of.  It’s Sojourn Music’s (a part of Sojourn Church) Over the Grave: The Hymns of Isaac Watts Volume 1.  Here’s their summary of the genesis of the project:

In the midst of the Reformation in England, Isaac Watts recognized that people needed to see the gospel in the psalms and hymns of the church, and they needed to sing them in language and metaphors that they understood. In this, he became not only the father of the modern hymn, but the pace-setter for contextualizing the gospel for the people of God.

As musicians, pastors and songwriters, our desire was to explore the hundreds of hymns that Watts wrote during his lifetime, to learn from the incredible range and depth of his lyrics, and to re-envision those songs with modern language and melodies. In particular, we gravitated towards themes that seem unfortunately absent in modern worship — themes about God’s wrath and judgment, His righteousness, and a dramatic vision of the cross and atonement of Christ.

Steadfast and Challenging Content

  • You can’t really go wrong when taking lyrics straight from Isaac Watts, writer of Joy to the World, one of the world’s most popular hymns, and countless other incredible poems set to music for the church.
  • It’s so good to see that they included “themes that seem unfortunately absent in modern worship — themes about God’s wrath and judgment, His righteousness, and a dramatic vision of the cross and atonement of Christ.”  In a culture filled with grace without responsibility, it’s refreshing to know that these songwriters are willing to talk about issues that every Christian needs to meditate on.

Strong, Singable Melodies

  • A good amount of the songs on this project are very singable and completely appropriate for many congregations, especially congregations that utilize a modern musical style.  I find myself singing “Oh, the Warrior…” and “Only Your blood is enough to cover my sin” over and over throughout the day after listening to the album.  The beautiful notes of “May Your Power Rest on Me” would easily stand alone without a full band behind them.
  • While “Living Faith” and others have generally singable melodies, some of the vocal enhancements on parts of them might be tricky for some congregations, but they are worth the effort to learn them and teach them to the congregation.

Professional Playing and Production

  • There is no doubt at all that every one of the musicians that played on this recording are incredibly skilled on their instrument.
  • The singers are polished and in control of their voices (Living Faith, Reveal Your Love, and especially the vocal with bells hooks on Only Your Blood and Alas and Did My Savior Bleed are fantastic proof of this)
  • The guitarist and bass guitarist show restraint on songs where necessary and fire up the strings like there’s no tomorrow when appropriate.  They are especially fun to listen to on Warrior, How Long, and Reveal Your Love
  • Every song was produced very creatively, from the great use of the Stringed Bass on Warrior to the many non-diatonic minor chords utilized in many songs that has become a signature sound of Sojourn music to me

Even if you do not incorporate modern music into your church’s repertoire, this album is a must have.  For one, it pays tribute to Isaac Watts’ desire to put the music in the language of the people of the day.  Secondly, these lyrics in a fresh new setting with outstanding musicians make this an inspiration to anyone who is looking for music that will direct their minds to God’s character.

Another great thing about this album is that I believe it has many songs that men in particular will want to sing.  While so much of today’s modern music is filled with beautiful poetry, it can tend to get a bit romantic for men.  I could definitely see a group of guys singing “Oh, the Warrior” and much more from this album, however.

You can buy the album directly from Sojourn music here or purchase an mp3 version from Amazon here (affiliate).  So looking forward to the next volume.

Playing the Acoustic Guitar

One important part of learning how to master an instrument is developing your muscles to instantly know where chords, notes, and scales are on the instrument in order to play them without any effort of thinking about them. We learned about what muscle memory is last week and applied it to playing the piano. Let’s take a look at some general exercises guitarists can use to develop muscle memory:

Acoustic/Rhythm Guitar

  • Practice progressions. Find the I-IV-V progression in every key you can play with open chords (chords like C, G, D, E; played in the first position of the fretboard) and run through them over and over daily.
  • Start strumming. Find new strumming patterns to use and work the muscles of your right hand so that they get used to the pattern.
  • Place your Pick (and your fingers) – Train your fingers on your strumming hand to know where each string is so you are able to call out specific notes within the chord.  Practice playing each chord with just your fingers so you are able to develop more finger-picking technique.
  • Break out of the low position of the fretboard. Start learning how to play chords in different shapes and positions higher up the neck.  Once you’ve done that….

Electric/Lead Guitar

  • Know how to play each chord in a different shape and position on the fretboard. Each chord shape can be moved up the frets in order to play it in any key.  Play every different shape and inversion of one chord over and over until your muscles know exactly where to find it in each position.  Once you’ve done that, put the different shapes together in progressions in each position by knowing which shapes to use together with each other.
  • Practice scales. If you want to be a good lead guitarist, you must know your scales.  Period. All solos and lead lines are built off of some form of scale.  Learn major, minor, pentatonic, blues, and every other scale possible.  To develop your muscles to the point of recognizing where your fingers go, start by playing one type of scale over and over again very slowly until you’ve mastered it at a certain speed (set your metronome and don’t stray from that speed until you can play the scale with no mistakes!) Once you’ve mastered the scale at a slow speed, increase your metronome slightly and practice it at that speed until you have no mistakes.  Keep doing this and gradually increase speed as you perfect the scale.  Then move on to a different scale type and start the whole process over.

A great resource for learning to play acoustic guitar for worship can be found here (affiliate) and here’s a great resource for playing electric guitar for worship (affiliate).

I’m not a master guitarist by any means, and I’m sure this is just scratching the surface for what you can do to develop muscle memory on the guitar. Long-time, experienced guitarists – what do you do to develop muscle memory?

(Photo by Asher Lohman.)