So, here’s the thing. For my work as Worship Arts Director at a church in Seattle, I ride a ferry for about 50 minutes twice a day. It’s a beautiful ride. Mt Rainier and the Cascade Mountains to the East. The Olympic Mountains to the West.
I’ve observed a recent phenomenon standing in line to board the ferry. It’s a posture thing. A quick google search just now revealed that there’s even a name for it: text neck.
Yep. Tons of people are totally engrossed in whatever is incredibly interesting on their phones, necks bent at what looks like a painful angle. I have text neck often, too. Minutes pass and I look up aware that a lot of life just passed by that I completely missed. Hmm. As I watch my fellow ferry riders bent over their screens, it’s made me think about something we all have in common: 24 hours. Since I’m confident that none of you have figured out how to squeeze more minutes into your day, I’ll pose a simple question: what place does developing your musicianship have in your day? In your week? In your month?
It’s a challenging question. For me, too. I’m grateful that my current position as a worship arts director allows me time at a piano. Choosing songs. Brushing up on my favorite passages from the Chopin G minor Ballade. Playing some scales and arpeggios. Developing an arrangement of a favorite hymn. Beyond that time “on the clock” at church, there’s also that time in the evening when I could put on my headphones and head to my Montage. Or that Saturday morning when I’m up before my family.
My challenge for you readers, you keyboard players, you lovers of God and worship musicians is to make some time, more time, for developing your keyboard skills. That might mean watching a tutorial on MainStage, writing out a takedown of a favorite piano recording, or seeing how close you can come with your available sounds to imitating a keyboard sound from a recording.
Check the table of contents here and you’ll find an article for bass players from my friend Norm Stockton. Several years ago, Norm came to a church my area and did a workshop for bass players. He asked the musicians who’d attended what their daily practice regime was. You could almost see the shock on their faces. Daily practice? Thoughts like “I can’t pick up my bass until the next time I’m scheduled for worship team” were likely running through their minds.
Norm outlined some of the details of his practice to them. I wonder, these years later, how many of them implemented any of them. I’m sure some did.
So, take a deep breath and don’t let a condemning voice say you’re a slacker. Remember, we all have 24 hours in our day. Here are a few things you might consider for some of your practice time.
Listen to a song that has a conspicuous piano part. Could be the opening of “Cornerstone”. Or the start of Kristene DiMarco’s “It Is Well.” Sit at your keyboard and play exactly what was played in the recording. No extra notes. No left hand activity that wasn’t on the recording. Make it just as sparse as the original. Then play it in a different key. Up a 5th. Down a 3rd. Do the same voicings still sound good? What changes do you need to make?
Practice key changes. I’m not talking 90’s modulations up a step before the last chorus (careful, I wrote some of those songs), but key changes like the ones we often make between our songs during our worship sets. From D to G. From A to E. You know. Those guitar-friendly keys. One of my favorite devices for those moments is to play the hook/intro figure/lead line for the upcoming song in the current key.
The opening progression of “Great Are You Lord” from All Sons & Daughters is a perfect example. That progression moves from 4 to 6 to 5. Play that progression in whatever key you’re leaving. Create a specific melody above the chords. Then start the progression in the needed key. Play that same melody in the new key. Next, choose a random starting key and move to that key. This a great exercise and can prove invaluable when your worship leader or pastor looks your way and gives you the “Get us to the right key!” look. If you’ve spent some time practicing these progressions, these connections, you may find that your heart rate doesn’t increase by 20 beats per minute and that, without much effort, you’ve established the new key. Yes!
You are remarkable. You are capable of lifelong learning. Whatever your age. Whatever keyboard you have. Think about what you might have found awkward last time you played on your worship team. Was it challenging to find the right sound you wanted? Did you forget that melody you were supposed to play after the first chorus? Is it still challenging for you to create parts using pad sounds? Everyone has challenges. Even Norm Stockton. He practices regularly. You and I should too. Today’s a great day to start. You have 24 hours. Straighten that text neck and have a seat at your keyboard.