Tuesday Training – Piano Playing vs. Keyboard Playing

Ryan Egan —  March 6, 2007 — Leave a comment

I believe that understanding the difference between playing the piano and playing the keyboard is one of the most difficult concepts for church worship teams.  Most churches have two types of musicians:

  • The musician who reads notes really well but can’t read a chord sheet.
  • Or the musician who can’t read notes at all but can play from a chord sheet perfectly.

Most piano players are the former.  For whatever reason, most piano players grow up learning how to read music very well, but are never taught to apply basic music theory.  Yes, most piano techniques go through music theory, but I don’t think teachers help students apply it enough.

So, is there a difference between piano playing and keyboard playing?  Absolutely. We’ll get into why it’s important later.

The Difference Between Playing Piano and Playing Keyboard

The main difference between playing piano and playing keyboard is this:  the piano player always wants to be in charge of the music, and the keyboard player knows how to submit to the whole of the group.  For instance, what’s the first thing you notice when you see a piece of music written for praise and worship teams?  It’s a piano part that plays everything. The piano has the melody, chord harmony, and bass, all in one part!

Unfortunately, most praise and worship teams at churches aren’t blessed with a full band, so the piano usually acts as the whole band.  Now, for a setting without a whole band, this actually almost works.  The piano needs to play the bass and the harmony, but if there are strong, confident singers, the piano shouldn’t play the melody.  This is the beginning of learning to be a keyboard player instead of a piano player: knowing what not to play.

Playing With A Group as Opposed to Playing Solo

Now, if the church is blessed with a whole band, it is even more important that the piano part becomes less and less.  When an acoustic guitar and drums are carrying the rhythm, the piano doesn’t need to play every note that’s written on the page.  When there is a strong bass player involved, the piano should not play the bass notes at all.  When there is a whole band involved, and the piano keeps on playing every part, everything gets very muddy, and the crisp clean professional sound that is needed isn’t there.

Playing the keyboard involves learning to listen to who’s playing what, and off when it is necessary.  Unfortunately for many people who have played the piano for years, this can become quite boring!  But, for the greater good of the team, sometimes the keyboardist needs to be a bit bored to make it all sound good.  Many times, electric guitar players will just play one chord every four measures.  Now that’s boring!!

The keyboard player learns to fill in the cracks where there is no vocal going on with nice melodic fills.  The keyboard player learns how to use strings, pads, and many other cool things that add lots of texture to the band.

Is piano playing now abolished?  Absolutely not!  There are many times when the piano should drive a song, and the piano parts can be played as a beautiful compliment to the rest of the band.

So, how do you learn how to do all these things and learn how to become a keyboard player instead of a piano player?  And why is it important to understand these concepts? Those are topics for another post…stay tuned.

Are you more of a keyboard player or a piano player?

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Ryan Egan

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Ryan is a follower of Christ, husband, father, worship leader, & creative. He is heavily involved in the Association of Free Lutheran Churches and desires to teach others to live a life of worship in everything they do.