Are you a young keyboard playing worship leader? Are you a veteran piano player with years of lessons, but trying to transition into more of a contemporary/improvisational style? Are you a mentor and coach helping others learn to lead and play worship from the keyboard? We’ve put together 8 simple tips that will make you and your students better worship leaders from the keyboard!
1) Learn the songs.
If you’re the leader of the band and you’re framming away on wrong chords it sets a bad tone for the whole team. If you’re playing wrong chords you’re probably going to be clashing with the rest of the band. Even worse, if you’re leading solo from the keys it sounds terrible because there’s nothing to hide behind.
So take your pick:
a) Play wrong chords and sound like a train wreck with the band.
b) Play wrong chords by yourself and make yourself look pretty incompetent.
c) Learn the song and play the right chords so that worship can happen freely and undistracted!
2) Learn to play inversions.
If you learn to play the 1st and 2nd inversions instead of just the Root position of a triad, you’ll make your chord voicing and over all playing style smoother.
For example, in the key of C:
Root Position = C – E – G (played with 1 3 5 fingers on the right hand)
1st Inversion = E – G – C (played with 1 2 5 fingers on the right hand)
2nd Inversion = G – C – E (played with 1 3 5 fingers on the right hand)
Notice that, each inversion uses the 3 notes in a C major triad (C E G) just in different configurations. What that means is I can move from a C chord to an F chord in a much smoother manner if I choose the inversion of the next chord that is closest to the chord I’m currently on.
For example, in the key of C:
I start playing a C major chord in 2nd Inversion (G – C – E) and I want to move to an F major chord (which is F A C in Root Position). The closest inversion of F major is 1st Inversion (A – C – F) because it only requires me to “move” 2 notes to make the chord different. To do this I move my thumb from G to A and my Pinky from E to F. Note that the middle finger (3) switched to the index finger (2) but it stays on the same note!
F major used in previous example:
Root Position = F – A – C (1 3 5)
1st Inversion = A – C – F (1 2 5)
2nd Inversion = C – F – A (1 3 5)
Learning and utilizing these inversion will make your playing sound less choppy and more smooth. Be intentional about learning the inversions and then make intentional decisions about how to implement them within songs.
3) Don’t overplay the left hand.
Especially if you’re in a band. Many novice keyboard players like to ride the left hand because it “sounds” cool. It gives them that big, wide, full sound. If you have a bass player you don’t need to be the bottom. Let THEM be the bottom!
4) Learn where to fit in the sonic spectrum.
Depending on the size of your band, it might make matters worse to try and play in the same sonic space as the other instruments. There’s nothing wrong with doubling leads or at times doubling pads and such, but ultimately you want your band to feel well mixed and blended and part of making that happen is not stepping all over other instruments.
For example, if you have a bass player, DON’T OVERPLAY the left hand! Or if you have a good solid rhythm guitarist who is playing in the low to medium range of their sonic space, then you might be better off laying out or playing higher up the keyboard.
5) Don’t be afraid to explore different sounds on the keyboard.
Use the piano sounds for sure, but sometimes a nice Wurly or Rhodes can give a song a warmer feel. Experiment! Don’t be afraid to try out new synth leads and pads, especially if there is more than one keyboard player in the band. If you are leading solo, it’s best to use a piano or electric piano patch.
6) Try using a “2” voicing of a chord.
It’s also called a “sus2” which means that instead of playing the 3rd note from the root to build a triad (1 3 5) you’d play the 2nd note from the Root.
For example in the key of C:
Root Position = C – E – G (1 3 5)
sus2 variation = C – D – G (1 2 5)
Why use this? It gives your chords a little color, a little variation. It’s used in modern music a lot and in modern worship it can make your sound have a more advanced feel and sound less elementary. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever use the regular old 1 3 5 triad, but try spicing it up using the sus2 variation.
7) Don’t bulldoze the vocals!
For leaders who will also sing while playing, make sure that your playing is a springboard for your voice. You want your playing to complement your voice, not bulldoze it. The band as a whole (unless otherwise noted) should be the platform that the vocals sit on. There is a time and a place for soaring B3 solos and sweet classical piano riffs, but it shouldn’t happen during the phrases where lyrics are being sung.
8) Lose the music stand.
This one is probably the most difficult to accomplish because it requires us to step outside of our comfort zones. What would it look like if you were able to lose your music stand? If you’re like most keyboard players who lead worship, you’re already behind a keyboard with a stand AND a boom mic stand of some sort. Add to that a music stand and we’ve put a lot of things between us. Would it be possible to memorize your music, or incorporate a better prompter/projector set up so that you can lead with out a music stand? This has caused controversy in the past, so I offer it as a mere suggestion, not as a requirement for being a better leader!
Fellow keyboard worship leaders, do you have any other tips you would offer? Any tricks that make your life easier on keys? Share with us in the comments!