Archives For Training

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)

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.)

If there’s one thing I’m beginning to appreciate more and more as I continue to partner in the plan and design of our worship services it’s the realization that because of the Gospel and Jesus Christ’s finish work on the cross, churches, not only throughout the world, but throughout time have been united in a common practice for centuries:  the worship service.

While so many of our services of worship look very different among the various denominations, “where a church maintains the truths of the gospel, it inevitably discovers aspects of worship that are in harmony with other faithful churches.”

That sentence from page 19 in Bryan Chapell’s “Christ-Centered Worship” (affiliate) is a great summary to the importance of this fantastic book.  If you lead or plan worship services in your church, this book is a must-read.

While maintaining that the Gospel story must be communicated fully in any worship service design, Bryan takes us on a fascinating trip from the early Church to the Reformation and through today in order to help us be wise in planning our services and appreciate the rich heritage of those who have gone before us.

Liturgy is Not Boring, nor Ancient

Part 1 on Bryan’s book discusses the structure of worship services throughout time.  While reading, you’ll learn to appreciate that every type of church has some sort of liturgy and get a glimpse of where that liturgy has come from and how it is influenced our modern worship services today.  You’ll learn that liturgy (“the public way a church honors God in its times of gathered praise, prayer, instruction, and commitment” 18) is meaningful and purposeful and that “there is a strategy to the liturgy” and that, yes, even modern churches have liturgy.  Bryan gives us a detailed look at services from the Rome, Luther, Calvin, Westminter, and the modern order from Robert G. Rayburn.  He breaks each order down and includes very helpful comparative charts along the way.

Each Part of the Service Explained

In part 2 we’re given a detailed breakdown of the major portions of the worship service including the Call to Worship, Affirmation of Faith, and more.  The author also includes detailed examples for each section, making the book not only a historical resource, but a very practical resource for weekly service planning.

Fascinating, but not for Everyone

This book is definitely historical, and quite academic.  It’s not a sit-down-and-read-quickly type of book and requires time, thought, and a curiosity for history.  The book will mainly be helpful for pastors, worship pastors, worship leaders, and service planning teams, but if a congregational member wants to know more about “why we do what we do” in our churches this would also be a good read for them.

This book is a definite must-read and because of Part 2, a definite must-own as a helpful resource. You can by the book from Amazon here (affiliate).  Read another great review from Bob Kauflin.

Do you ever wonder how some musicians seem to make playing their instruments seem effortless? They not only know where to play notes on a page, chords on a lead sheet, and more, but they seem to be able to do it with their eyes closed. The key to playing like this is something called muscle memory.

Continue Reading...

Do you ever find yourself wondering how you can add variety to your praise and worship music or hymns but have no idea how to do it? Here are some ultra basic tips that can go a long way in making the music played for your worship gatherings much more interesting, regardless of if you have a full band or just a piano and some singers on your team.

Continue Reading...