Drab or Dramatic? Static or Stale?

Playing parts using a pad sound is one of the most common contributions of a keyboard player on a worship team today. If you’ve listened analytically to many modern worship recordings where pad sounds are heard, you’ve probably noted that you hear a lot of static notes in the pads. I refer to these as droning notes. I’ve taught about how to create pad parts in previous articles here, but want to give a quick review of the essential point I make: Learn the 1st and 5th notes of the key you’re in and use those notes to create a pad part. Stack the 1 and 5 with either the 1 or 5 on top and hold those notes as the chords of the song go by. Something like this:

And that’s it for review. Seriously. Whatever key you’re in, play 1 and 5 as stacked notes and let them drone above changing chords.

Two notes. Held measure after measure. Okay. Some of you may be wondering if your future contribution from your keyboard will be limited to these droning notes. That may be a decision that your worship leader/music director will influence, but if you’re open to contributing more than droning notes, you’ll find some options here.

Leonard Bernstein, the great American composer and conductor, once said, “Variation is a manifestation of the mighty dramatic principle known as the Violation of Expectation. What is expected is repetition… When those expectations are violated, you’ve got variation.” In our context, what is expected (and most often heard) from pad parts is static notes. How might you depart from that expectation by introducing moving notes from time to time?

I’m not suggesting you begin playing melodic activity that could compete with the song’s melody or melodic activity someone else in the band might play. You must always factor these two things into any melodic activity you provide. But, using long note values like whole and half notes, you may discover some melodic possibilities that could enhance your musical presentations. Something like this:

Note that I’ve let the top note (soprano) continue as a droning note. Below that droning note (in the alto) I made some stepwise movement (to a neighboring note in the scale) and some leaping movement (skipping one or more notes in the scale).

Note, too, that I tied the A out of measure 3 into measure 4. Then I added a G below that A to my voicing, creating the first 3 note voicing heard in the pad part.

There’s a huge variety of pad sounds available to you. Some are warm with little percussive attack. Others have pulse and movement programmed into them. Others emulate a string ensemble. Let’s say you chose such a sound, something that has a strong attack allowing you to imitate a cello section. You might choose to play this alto activity that uses quarter notes, giving more movement to the part:

Bernstein’s “Violation of Expectation” could influence your pad part in a later section of your song. Let’s say you’re playing a bridge of a song and will repeat the section several times. After playing a pad sound with only static notes like my first example here, you could introduce movement in your soprano voice of your pad part. Notice here that both voices move together in bars 1 and 3 while only the alto voice moves in measures 2 and 4. I’m transposing this example into the key of C, where the chord progression is the one used in the bridge of “Forever Reign”.

All of my examples here have conformed to a tendency I notice in pad parts I hear on recordings: all the notes of a stated chord are rarely used. For the Dsus chord in 2 of my examples 3 notes are heard at once, but otherwise only 2 notes are played together.

If this approach to pad part creation feels like too much work, too clinical, no problem. As stated earlier, and as evidenced by many wonderful recordings available today, droning notes in pad parts work very well. My hope here, though, is that you’ll discover some enhancements to your musical offerings by incorporating some of these options you have as a creative keyboard player.

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