Some of you who know my wife, Carey, know that she’s a great cook. Actually, I’d call her a great chef. She can take meatloaf, or chicken, or pork tenderloin and turn it into something far beyond an ordinary meal. She’s able to take the essence of a recipe and make it her own. I’m not quite sure what her secret is, but I sure benefit from it every time she serves a delightful meal to my kids and I and our guests. Her parmesan chicken? The perfect balance of crispy texture outside and juicy chicken inside. Yum.
She’s got a very refined palette, and she definitely knows what salt, thyme, oregano, or basil can bring to a dish. It’s not a stretch to say that keyboard players need to develop a refined palette too. You could say that each time we’re presented a chord chart for a song we’re given a recipe for the song. So many bars of intro. This or that chord over the verse. An instrumental after the bridge.
What distinguishes a great chef from an average one, and what could make you a great worship musician, is the ability to know what should be added beyond the recipe or the chord chart.
Carey knows, for example, that an essential ingredient in a dessert is a little salt. There’s always just a bit in each batch of frosting she makes. Go figure. Listen to recordings of worship songs and your ear might tell you that there’s something being heard from the instruments that’s not on the chord chart. It’s crucial for you and I to recognize that many chord charts today don’t describe some of the color notes we’re hearing in the music. The most common, as common perhaps as adding a little salt to frosting, is the 2 chord.
It’s not unusual these days to describe the chords in a worship song by number. The verse of “What A Beautiful Name”, for example, begins with 1-4-6-5. When I said 2 chord in the previous paragraph, I wasn’t talking about the 2 chord in the key. I’m referring to an alteration of a chord that’s heard in a majority of modern recordings. This 2 chord is especially common when playing the 1 and 4 chords in a major key. Let’s take that 1-4-6-5 progression I just mentioned. In the key of D, for example, the 1 chord is D and the 4 chord is G. Here are the notes of the basic chords, and then the notes you’d play if you opt for playing a 2 chord:
It’s important to note that the 3rd is omitted from these 2 chords. If the 3rd and the 2nd are played together that chord is called an add2 chord. If you tend to play only the basic chords D and G, try leaving the 3rd out and playing the 2. The change in color is instantly heard, just as adding a bit of salt can instantly influence the taste of a dish.
I’ll take this recipe analogy a little further and remind you that dissonance can be an important seasoning in our music. In the same way that the 1 and 4 chords are often played as 2 chords, there is a change commonly made to the 5 chord in a key that is definitely spicy. That’s the add4 chord. It’s quite a dissonant chord and it’s often heard on the recordings that you and I listen to.
The 5 chord in key of D is A major. We often see “sus” after a chord’s name. Asus, for example. In the sus chord the 3rd is omitted and the 4th played instead. The add4 chord, though, spices things up by using the 3rd AND the 4th at the same time.
It can be said that a chef must learn how to rightly use the various spices available to them. In the case of this add4 chord, there’s definitely a right way to use its spicy dissonance. You could play the notes listed above closely together in your right hand. A, C#, D and E.
This results in a muddy, thick voicing though. Kind of like biting into something and discovering a glob of salt or flour that hadn’t been mixed in well. Don’t glob your notes together! Instead, experiment with spreading out these 4 notes between your hands, or leaving something out of the chords. For instance:
There are many more implications of this spice analogy to our music-making, but I’ll wind this down for now. The bottom line is that you and I each can develop a great sense for what spice we should or should not add to a song we’re playing. Study great arrangements of songs, just as great chefs study the work of masters of the culinary arts. And remember that there’s always room for making a recipe your own. Just be sure your worship leader or music director likes the “taste”!