Habits. For me, it’s when I sit down. Even though my knee hurts, I still cross my right leg underneath me before I sit. It also happens when I’m going to sleep. Lie on right side, right arm bent below head under pillow, left hand slid under chest.
I do it without thinking. I’ve probably done these things thousands of times in my life. Habits. Ask my wife and she’ll probably list a few more things I do that I’m not even aware of. Do you think maybe it’s possible for us to have musical things we do without thinking too? Absolutely. Becoming aware of those things, AND being willing to change them, is an important area for developing your musicianship as well as being an effective member of your worship team.
Here are some areas where we might be repeating patterns we’re not aware of.
Telling Yourself You Can’t Play With A Click
Lots of worship teams these days are playing with a click track. Their in-ear monitors give them the option of hearing a metronome sound that the congregation doesn’t hear. At first, you may think that there’s something’s really wrong with that click and there’s no way your timing is that unsteady. With time, and a little humility, you may actually prefer playing with a click. Rather than seeing it as an irritating little bleep-bleep-bleep-bleep, you’ll find that you recognize its value, rely on it, and relax into it. Got everyone on your team playing with the click yet? What a difference that will make.
Telling Yourself You Can’t Grasp Technology
Ever bought a new keyboard or new software for your computer, all excited about the new sounds you’d be able to make or the efficiency you’d add to your workflow? Two hours after first turning on the keyboard or launching the software you’re staring in frustration at what’s before you, wondering how the demo you saw online made everything look so easy. Do you start looking for your sales receipt and investigate return policies?
That’s an option. Or, if you’re convinced your purchase will benefit you, you could take a deep breath, maybe step away for a moment, and recognize that just because you can’t instantly grasp something doesn’t mean some focused effort won’t make your current challenge an encouraging accomplishment. I know that when I first wanted to rename a performance I’d created on my Yamaha Motif XF-8 it seemed as cryptic as solving a nine-sided Rubik’s cube. Now I’m able to quickly do it with just a few button clicks. Progress is possible!
Playing The Chords Without Considering Your Voicings
One thing that sets apart keyboard parts on modern worship recordings from what you might hear from a pianist in a more traditional church is the voicings that are used. Voicings refer to what notes of a chord a player uses and where they put them on the instrument. A very important phrase was just stated: “what notes of a chord a player uses”. You see, just because your chord chart describes a 3 or 4 note chord doesn’t mean that all of those notes are needed. Take the progression that is used for the verse and chorus of “Great Are You Lord”. In the key of E, that progression is A C#m7 B. You could play each of these chords with what I term a “block voicing”. In your right hand, this block voicing would include all the notes of the chord positioned next to each other. No gaps between pitches.
Chord // Block Voicing // Left Hand
A // A C# E // A
C#m7 // C# E G# B // C#
B // B D# F# // B
By contrast, an “open voicing” might look something like this:
Chord // Open Voicing // Left Hand
A // A E // A
C#m7 // B E // C#
B // B D# // B
Playing without color. Another distinctive aspect of modern worship arrangements is the use of color chords. Though the chord chart for “Great Are You Lord” might say A C#m7 B, we often hear variations of these basic chords that feature notes beyond just the 3 or 4 notes in the chords. For example, the B chord is often played as a Badd4 chord. This chord introduces the note E to the chord. That note can be played along with the usual B D# and F# of the B chord. By opting for this colorful chord, the note E could be used on top of the Open Voicing you use for the B chord. Now you have an E sounding atop each of these chords. That E is called a common tone.
Chord // Colorful Voicing // Left Hand
A // A E // A
C#m7 // B E // C#
B // B D# E // B
Make an exercise out of keeping a common tone on top of your right hand voicing. This may help you see that you sometimes play chords without thinking of what they might contribute to the arrangement if a colorful note or two were added. This exercise is especially helpful in developing your voicing for parts using pad sounds.
Being a poor listener. Scrutinize your favorite worship recording. Listen closely to what keyboards are doing. Are pad sounds heard? Are there common tones used through chord changes? Is there a piano part? Does it play minimal activity or is it fairly busy? Contrast your observations from this recording with what you do as you’re playing in a worship set. Are you listening well to what the rest of the team is playing? Are you playing activity that competes with a vocal line? Are you playing activity that’s duplicating what a guitarist is already playing?
Think about what you hear. Think about how your part is contributing to the whole. Be willing to change your part, simplify your part, perhaps even leave out your part. Sometimes that’s the best contribution you can make to a moment in an arrangement.
Habits. They’re powerful things in our lives. It can be very challenging to really notice things we do without thinking. There could be great musical benefits to you AND to your team if you are willing to do this. I know I’m finding this true.
P.S. For a great read about the concepts I relate here, check out “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. It is fascinating AND very applicable to our musical pursuits.