5 Simple Ways to Play More than Just a Chord (for Lazy Musicians)
Updated: May 18
Question: How do I play the piano fancier during worship songs? How do I play more than just a chord?
This lesson was requested by my wonderful Mom, who ironically is the one who first taught me piano. Since then, 3 years of classical lessons and 15 years of contemporary worship team experience has multiplied the harvest she sowed in me. I'm excited to be able to finally give something back!
If you're like my Mom, you don't really practice outside of the worship team stuff. Even if you were to somehow find the motivation to sit down at the piano during the week, you would be lucky to practice for 15 minutes, 20 if you're lucky.
I get it. I've been there. This lesson is for you!
If you still need a little more help, check out this easy video lesson!
First, a Note from History
It used to be that most of the worship was sung and written at a piano or organ. Church songs and hymns were written with choirs in mind, embellished with grand melodies and complicated chords.
Most songs today are far simpler, repetitious, easy to sing, easy to learn, and may include an optional second or third part. Gone are the days of complex, grandiose, wordy music. I’m going to cover more of the history and culture behind this massive shift in another article.
Disclaimer: If you're playing piano for your church, keep in mind their culture, preferences, and background. What you are about to learn is a specific style for churches that prefer the contemporary worship of today. This is for churches that mostly play newer worship songs, have a full band, lead with guitar, or want to have a full guitar-led band. If you want to dress up your chords for hymn music and older worship songs, that's another lesson entirely.
If you're aiming for the modern contemporary style, don't feel pressured to play every part of the chord, a full base, and a flowery melody 100% of the time (unless you're playing traditional-style hymns). The secret to dressing up your playing is, ironically, to play simpler music. It took me over a decade to discover these 5 tricks I know now. So here they are. I hope they help you as well!
Let’s do this.
Learn to Share
Are you playing by yourself for the worship service? With just a guitar player? In a full band? Hymns or modern music?
When you know the answer to that, you are able to determine what you should--and shouldn't--be playing on the piano.
There are 4 basic parts to a song:
As a piano player, you're more than capable of filling all those roles by yourself. But if you're in a band, you'll have to share the load a bit. Yay teamwork!
Learn more about the different parts of a song, and where you fit, here.
For example, if you have a bass player, go easy on your left hand. Let the bass player fill the role of playing bass.
If you have a drummer, no need to rock the beat. Let him lead the rhythm.
If the guitar is supposed to play mostly melody, support him by playing the basic chords. And vice-versa.
Stay around middle C, letting the melody instruments hang out on the higher notes and the bass hang out on the lo