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.

10 Ways to Develop Musicianship in Children's Choir [Video]

10 Ways to Develop Musicianship in Children's Choir [Video]

So, I've been thinking.

I believe our church music programs are a wonderful way to inspire people in their faith and teach them about who God is, but also to give them a place to learn about music and develop their musicianship.

I know it might seem optimistic, but with so many music programs being cut from schools, I think the church has a unique opportunity to provide children with experiences that help them grow as believers and musicians. I believe we can do both.

Today, I'm talking about what musicianship is and 10 practical things you can do to develop it little-by-little in your children's choir rehearsals all throughout the year.

I thought I'd mix things up today and share this post in video format, just for fun. I hope you enjoy it! (And, P.S. Be sure to watch to the end for an exciting announcement!)

Must-Have Skills for the 21st Century Church Musician

Must-Have Skills for the 21st Century Church Musician

I started my first "real" church job when I was 17. It was a small Methodist church in south Georgia with one Sunday morning service, an adult choir of about 12 and a children's choir of about six. I was still learning to play the organ at the time and played most of the service from the upright piano in the front of the church. I dove head-first into worship planning, liturgy, and choir anthems and loved every minute of it.

My next job was as a Music Intern at a large Methodist church in north Georgia. I did administrative work for the children's choir program; accompanied the youth choir and women's choir, and adult choir, on occasion; played hymns and solo music in three weekly services; and substitute taught handbells, children's choir, and children's chime choir. I learned so much and gained so much practical experience during those two years.

Since then, I've served four other congregations as Organist/Accompanist, Music Director, Handbell Director, and now Director of Worship Arts.

All that to say - as church musicians, we wear lots of hats.

Developing Aural Skills in the Piano Studio

Developing Aural Skills in the Piano Studio

Aural skills (also known as ear-training) is a fundamental facet of musicianship. Learning to listen, identify, discern, and understand music without notation present helps develop the inner listening skills needed to become a well-rounded, well-versed musician.

Finding the steady beat
Recognizing strong and weak beats
Discerning meter and tonality
Understanding rhythm and tonal patterns
Recognizing dynamics
Discerning articulation
Feeling interval distances
Understanding cadences
Recognizing chords

Aural skills "help musicians at all levels to become more discerning in they way they play, sing and listen to music" (source). 

We all remember those 8 a.m. aural skills classes in college - sight-reading, singing intervals, singing bass lines, spelling chords. But what kinds of aural skills experiences are we giving our students before college? How can we incorporate aural skill activities in our weekly studio lessons

Piano Olympics Festival

Piano Olympics-01.png

Aren’t the Olympics exciting?! 

I love how they bring people together – across nations – to recognize and celebrate hard work, excellence, and achievement

These are things I want to celebrate in my students.

So, inspired by this year’s Winter Olympics and drawing on the five colored rings in the Olympic logo, I created a piano festival based on five key aspects of musicianship:

Blue – Sight-Reading
Gold – Memorization + Performance
Black – Aural Skills (clap-backs, sing-backs, play-backs)
Green – Creativity (improvisation, composition)
Red – Technique

This festival is based on a series of weekly “events” – students will have the opportunity to choose which events they would like to “train” for and participate in. 

My goal is to focus on one ring at a time, for teaching efficiency and to keep students from getting overwhelmed. Together, we will choose events (2-3 per category); I will give students practice materials to take home so they can prepare for the events. Most events are designed to take place in the lessons. 

Once students successfully complete the required number of events for a given category, they will earn that Olympic ring.  After all rings have been earned, the student will receive a certificate of achievement and perhaps a small prize for participating.

The events are as follows:

Blue: Sight-Reading

Olympic training: sight-play something new 7 days in a row

Sight-Reading Events: Choose 2

Halfpipe: sight-play two contrasting short pieces
500m Freestyle: sight-read two contrasting rhythm exercises, counting out loud
Remix: sight-play a short exercise with RH, then LH
Short Track Relay: sing, speak rhythm, and play new piece on your own

Gold: Memorization + Performance

Olympic training: practice 7 days in a row

Memorizing + Performance Events:Choose 2

Speed Skating: polish and memorize 1-2 pieces from earlier in the year
Giant Slalom: learn a continuous technique sequence from memory
Semifinal: perform two pieces from memory for friends or family

Black: Aural Skills

Olympic training: copy tonal and rhythm patterns from recording – sing-back or clap-back

Aural Skills Events: Choose 2

Curling: perform two contrasting rhythm exercises, counting out loud
Free Skating: create your own rhythmic series for practice – minimum: four bars
Qualifying: sing and play a new song by ear – choose something you know

Green: Creativity

Olympic training: transpose three short pieces to a new key this week

Creativity Events: Choose 2

Freestyle Skiing: compose a new piece
Bobsled: perform a structured improvisation with teacher or family member
Figure Skating: compose or improvise a duet with a friend

Red: Technique

Olympic training: practice a different technique exercise every day for 7 days

Technique Events: Choose 3

Ski Jumping: play five continuous 5-finger or one-octave scales in steady tempo
Cross-Country Skiing: play three major/minor triads (Prep B/Level 1: with inversions), HS
Biathlon: play one 5-finger or one-octave scale – one hand legato, one hand staccato, HS
Snowboarding: play two 5-finger or one-octave scales, descending first, then ascending, HS
Ice Dancing: play two 5-finger or one-octave scales in contrary motion, HT

Free Download:
Piano Olympics Planning & Resource Guide

Download this free guide, complete with helpful resources and materials for facilitating these events with Preparatory A, Preparatory B, and Level 1 students (based on the levels of the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Music Development Program).

Resources used in this project:

Please note: some of these links are affiliate links, which means if you decide to purchase through any of them, I will earn a small commission. This helps support the blog and allows me to continue creating free content. Thank you for your support!

Gig Harbor Music Teachers Association
Susan Griesdale
Chanson Voice Studio
Joy Morin/Color in My Piano
Keyboard Musicianship for the Adult Beginner (Frances Clark)
Music Tree Activities, Part I (Frances Clark)
Royal Conservatory of Music, Music Development Program
Developing Musicianship Through Improvisation (Azzara/Grunow)

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!