keyboard skills

5 Creative Ways to Spruce Up Your Hymn-Playing

5 Creative Ways to Spruce Up Your Hymn-Playing

As a church musician, you know the struggle:

You have numerous opportunities to use hymn arrangements and creative hymn-playing techniques in worship (like, multiple times in every service!), but access to hymn harmonizations and published resources is limited, and in some cases, they aren’t available at all.

The good news is, you don’t need to rely solely on published resources to add creative hymn arrangements and harmonizations into your service-playing.

You can learn to do some of this yourself!

With a few easy-to-use strategies and a quick refresher on those 8 a.m. college theory classes, you’ll be creating your own artful hymn arrangements in no time.

Ready to get started? Mix up your approach to hymn-playing this month with these 5 creative strategies:

13 Ways to Continue Developing Your Keyboard Skills This Year

13 Ways to Continue Developing Your Keyboard Skills This Year

I wasn’t really familiar with the term keyboard skills until I was in grad school, flipping through the course catalog one semester. The course description piqued my interest:

"Practical experience in score reading, figured bass realization, transposition, melody harmonization, and pop symbols.”

Needless to say, I signed up.

New! Online Keyboard Skills Class for Church Musicians

New! Online Keyboard Skills Class for Church Musicians

Music school is great, but if you want to be a church musician in the 21st century, there are lots of things you're left to figure out on your own - things that simply aren't taught in most schools or private studios.

This includes:

  • playing and singing or playing and conducting at the same time
  • accompanying and supporting choral and congregational singing
  • harmonizing melodies (with and without chord symbols)
  • finding cadence points and vamping in the moment
  • creating modulations and transposing at sight
  • improvising transitions and creating musical underscores
  • playing 5-finger patterns in all 24 keys (12 major, 12 minor)

And the list goes on. Where do you start? How do you learn and develop these skills?

If you can relate to any of this, then this course is for you.

Building Musicianship - Part II


paradigmA glimpse at some of my notes from class

I am four weeks into the spring semester and four weeks into my "Keyboard Skills" class that I mentioned in my previous post.  Let me just say that this may be my favorite class ever.  I am learning so many practical skills for performing, improvising, teaching, playing church music, etc. and I'm learning so much about myself as a musician in the process.  Let me give you a little sneak peek into my practice time these past few weeks:

1. Paradigms Paradigms are a fancy theoretical word for short chord progressions, essentially expanding the tonic key.  Each paradigm has 3-4 chords, functioning as a building block in music (we've been practicing them in all twelve keys, major and minor).  Each week of practice assignments builds on the week(s) prior so as we progress, we're expanding our tonal vocabulary more and more.

Week 1: seven paradigms Week 2: seven paradigms Week 3: thirteen paradigms Week 4: three paradigms

This week, we're also working on diatonic scale harmonizations--or, in English--adding chords to an ascending and descending scale line (think vocal warm-ups). With a total of thirty paradigms, harmonizing a scale line (or really any melody) is just a matter of linking these progressions together in different ways.

2. Score Reading In addition to reading treble and bass clef, we're learning (or re-learning) how to read alto clef.  To practice this, we've been working on mostly two-part repertoire (alto clef in one hand, bass or treble clef in the other).  A few practice techniques:

1. Hands separately 2. Hands together 3. Hands alternating by measure 4. Hands together, stopping/starting

Practicing with hands alternating every measure trains your eye to move quickly between staves and trains your mind to translate the various clefs quickly and efficiently.  Starting and stopping (while you keep time in your head) gives you an opportunity to audiate what's on the page (hear something in your head without the sound being present) and again trains your mind to quickly recognize various clefs.

3. Transposition We've had three transposition assignments now--two hymns (4-voice texture) and the accompaniment to a Schubert Lied.  There are a few strategies here, as well:

1. Analyze the harmonic progression--think about function 2. For homophonic music, think about the intervals within the hand (practice hands separately in the new key) 3. Identify cadences (and tonicized keys, where necessary) 4. Use clef transpositions whenever possible 5. Practice hands together in the new key, staccato

Clef transpositions means looking at the stave as if it's in another clef.  For instance, if a piece is in A Major, and you need to transpose it to C Major, think of the treble staff as being in bass clef (the second space is A in the treble staff and C in the bass staff).  Use alto clef to help you, too!

4. Coordination We keyboardists tend to think of ourselves as fairly coordinated but let me tell you, reading a bass line with your left hand and conducting a 4-beat pattern with your right hand is complicated!  Here are a few ways to practice coordination (beyond what we normally do):

1. Sing + Play - For 2-part music, sing one line, play the other, then switch - For 4-part music (hymns are great), sing one voice and play the remaining three 2. Play + Conduct (play with one hand, conduct with the other) 3. Practice standing up

5. Sequences This is a prequel to reading figured bass but the practice of filling in chords aurally while reading only the melody and bass line is a valuable ear exercise.  Sequences are pattern-based so it also reinforces good voice-leading and keyboard-style playing (three voices in your right hand, one in your left hand).

Whew!  A lengthy post (props to you if you're still reading!) but hopefully it's helpful to some of you as you continue your own journey of building musicianship.  Next up in this series--harmonization!

Previously: Building Musicianship - Part I

Building Musicianship - Part I


IMG_1427 Musicians often talk about "developing their musicianship."  It's the artistry in performance, it's interpretation, it's an approach to one's instrument, it's the way we communicate without words.  Truth be told, it's something we're never quite done with.  You see, there are always new things to be learned, things that could be more efficient or more natural, different ways of thinking, bad habits to break, etc.  As musicians, we are all continual works in progress.

So, we find ways to develop our musicianship, our artistry.

For me, this means some of the things I mentioned in my list of goals for this year: become a better improviser, sightread and sightsing on a more regular basis, become more efficient at transposing and reading open score (4+ lines of music), and become a more competent listener.  How do I improve these things?  Practice, practice, practice.

I'm taking a wonderful theory class this semester called "Keyboard Skills" - essentially, a theory class at the keyboard.  More on this soon (sneak peek in the picture above!).  The assignments for this class go hand-in-hand with my musicianship goals for this year so yesterday, I sat down with my planner at the kitchen table and blocked off some time in my schedule (with striped washi tape, of course) to spend in the practice room.

Goal: Learn five songs in twelve different keys

This is one of my specific goals for building musicianship this year.  Playing simple songs by ear will improve my harmonic listening skills (listening to more than just the melody) and learning them in every key will aid transposition and improvisation skills.  Each week, I'll focus on a few keys, adding to the list with each successive week until I've worked through all twelve keys (major or minor, depending on the tonality of the song).  Here's how I plan to make this happen:

Week 1: Play song in C, F, G, and D Week 2: Play song in A, E, and B + review C, F, G, and D Week 3: Play song in F#, Db, and Ab + review C, F, G, D, A, E, and B Week 4: Play song in Eb and Bb + review C, F, G, D, A, E, B, F#, Db, and Ab

This week, I started Song #1.

This is the first of a few posts I plan to write about my strategies for building musicianship.  More in the weeks to come!