You’ve probably seen the ads online. Maybe you use them yourself. You might have heard someone else talk about them but aren’t sure what they are. Maybe you saw them on the app store.
What are they? Worship pads. Or some similar term. Essentially, what these are is audio recordings of pad sounds that play as a background to what your worship team is playing. They’re long enough for any song you might play. The concept represented here is that you choose the pad file for the key your song is in, start the pad playback, and then play your song. You might wonder how this is possible, since chords change at different places in different songs. How could one recording of pads in a specific key work for so many songs?
The answer can revolutionize your approach to keyboard playing on your worship team. How’s that? Scrutinize these worship pad recordings and you might notice something very important. Only a few notes are being played. And they’re being held for a long time. These notes are chosen because they can blend well with the chords that songwriters and arrangers use in modern worship songs.
I won’t jump too deep into the music theory behind this, but will simply suggest that you learn 3 notes in every key: 1-2-5, the first, second, and fifth notes of the scale. Here’s a chart that lists these notes for several keys. To make this a little less intimidating, I’m going to limit this first table to the keys most often used in worship music, keys that are more guitar-friendly. At the end of this article you’ll find a complete table showing all available keys.
Notes in Scale
We sometimes talk about building blocks in music. These three notes are truly one of the most significant building blocks in developing your confidence as a worship team keyboard player. I’m definitely not suggesting that you not learn the other notes in these scales or not become comfortable playing the chords in your songs, but with experimentation at your keyboard you’ll discover that these three notes really can be the basis for great keyboard parts. Study recordings of your favorite worship songs and you’ll hear these 3 notes make up many of the parts you hear.
The proof is in the playing. When I first learned of this product I couldn’t imagine that a droning pad whose notes hardly change could work over a changing chord progression. Experience has proven me wrong. The result is very satisfying, and you should try it for yourself. You can do this by searching online for “worship pads” or “ambient pads for worship”. You’ll find many free examples along with collections you can purchase. Choose a key and let the pad track play. At your keyboard, choose an acoustic piano sound. Or, if you’re a guitarist and you’re reading this, grab your instrument and play along.
The chords you choose are crucial as you play along. Modern worship songs tend to use four chords in the key. In the key of D, for example, you’ll typically find the D chord, G chord, A chord, and Bm. Play any of these chords as the pad track is playing. Fast song, slow song. Still works. Interesting, right? Establish a regular progression, something like G, Bm, A, D. What do you think?
It’s important when you’re trying this out on your own or using worship pads in your church that you have the tracks turned down fairly low. They are not meant to be a dominant element sonically. What I’ve discovered through the years is that you can get a real sense of what a pad part is adding by stopping it. Once you stop the pad part, you’ll miss the “bed” that it was providing for everything else you or your worship team are playing. You also might discover, as I have, that when a pad part is involved in your song you and your team can play less, be less busy.
This is a huge benefit in a worship setting, since many worship musicians tend to overplay. At your instrument, with a worship pad track playing, play the chord progression you played a moment ago, but only play a chord every 4 beats, for example. Then play a few measures where you play lots of activity. Then play a single chord every 4 beats again. Hear how spacious, how open, how transparent, the music becomes?
Please understand that I’m not trying to get rid of a keyboard player from your team. I’m a keyboard player, and I often play pad parts on my team. The point of worship pad products is that they can bring the beautiful textures of pad parts to your worship team if you don’t have a keyboard player who can provide pad parts.
The takeaway for us keyboard players is this: let the makeup of these worship pad tracks influence our own playing of pad parts. What do you hear when you listen to the tracks? You generally hear the 1st, 2nd and 5th notes of the scale, and those notes are held for quite a while, as I mentioned earlier. Ask yourself what you play when you are playing a pad sound. If you’re playing full 3 note chords for each chord you play, your pad part isn’t bringing the unique character that pad parts can bring to your team.
Make this practical. Make this your own. Next time you’re rehearsing with your worship team, call up your favorite pad sound. Orient yourself somewhere in the middle register of your keyboard, not too far below or above middle C, and find the 1st, 2nd and 5th notes of the key you’re in. Hold those notes as the rest of the band plays the song. You’re now providing what the worship pad tracks were providing. Unique to what you bring to the team, as opposed to what the pad track provides, is the ability to follow the song’s chord progression. You can, for example, play a bass note, giving definition to the progression. This can be especially effective as an intro to a song, when the bass player might not have yet entered. Generally, though, when your bass player has entered, avoid lower notes, since they’ll compete with what the bass player adds, and they can make the music sound a bit muddy.
Three notes. Yep. Spend some time experimenting with keyboard parts that are limited to these notes. Whether pad sounds or piano sounds, the result can be a satisfying addition to your worship team’s sound.
Notes in Scale