We are ecstatic to have our friend Christy Lozinski guest writing with us today! She is a seasoned music director at her church, a 10 year piano teacher, and overall an incredible musician! If there’s anyone that has authority to speak on what keeps worship piano players from being great it’s her. Our team walked away from reading this blog incredibly challenged and motivated and we know it will do the same for you.
Whether you’ve been playing piano your whole life, or just for a short time, we all reach this point and ask this question…. “What am I doing wrong?”
Believe me, I’ve been there!
I remember when I was a teenager playing in my church’s youth band. I had been taking piano lessons for several years by that point, and had really hit the ground running with learning improv and what to do with the chords to fill the space until the next chord change. I was HIGHLY inspired and motivated to practice at that point, and was super excited to try out some concepts at church one night.
The only problem was, we were in the height of mid 2000’s guitar-driven-Hillsong-United-headbangers. So here I go, playing my super dramatic rolls and melody’s right before the electric guitar player starts wailing on his solo. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for the Worship leader to come to me and say “Christy…..chill.”
That’s all it took. I got it. I didn’t have to play EVERYTHING I knew how to play, ALL the time!
Over the years, I have had other “aha” moments either internally or in conversation with other keys players. I’ve pushed myself to learn from every mistake, and also evaluate, reevaluate, and evaluate again…how my playing is fitting in with the current style of music my church is doing.
You do not need to play everything you know and showcase your skillset. You have nothing to prove to anyone. Unless you are a one-man show for service this Sunday, trust your worship team to play what they’re supposed to play, and you focus on what you need to play for each song and all will be well!
I always try to focus on filling my spot as the keys player and playing tastefully where there is some space, and other than that, I just focus on playing with the band and try not to stick out unless there is a spot in the song that is keys-heavy.
Sounds contradictory right? But this can also be a problem!
Many spots for keys these days – specifically piano – should be in the middle of the mix. When the whole band is playing, piano is very similar to an acoustic guitar in that it should be consistent and noticed when it’s not there, but not necessarily be able to pick out every single thing the keys player is doing. Have you noticed on the majority of songs (excluding the piano driven ballads) it’s hard to pick out what the keys are doing for the ENTIRE song?
(That’s why Worship Online is a great resource!)
Because keys sit in the middle of the mix, it’s our job as the musician to find the balance of playing on the downbeats and filling rhythmically for the entire duration of the chord until the next downbeat.
If you are doing less than this, then you are underplaying.
I’ve heard too many auditions of keys players who just “noodle” on the keys and sound “amazing,” yet when put up next to a band, aren’t contributing any solid foundation that is so desperately needed. I have nothing wrong against noodling! As long as the foundation is already laid for each measure!!
If you are a beginner and just barely making the downbeats of the chords…
I would suggest watching as many videos as possible of the lead keys and take some concrete patterns that are used to fill the space, and learn them! Then apply them to every song you play, not just the one song you pulled the concept from.
3) Playing a grand piano patch for every song
This one was hard for me many years ago, when the nature of lead keys and aux keys morphed from piano and a string pad for every song, into what it is today. A lot of worship you hear from the last decade is so electronic by nature, you would be doing the song a disservice by playing a piano patch for it.
Do your best to play the song the way the song was written in both notation and how it sounds too. No excuses…
Either for just lack of knowledge in how to get the right sound, or pure laziness of not taking the time to find the right sound and tweak that sound until it sings… No excuses!
If you want to learn how to make incredible sounds, click here to be taken to our FREE video series on creating worship keys sounds from scratch! This is a fantastic resource even if you don’t have any experience!
This goes for all scenarios of church bands – whether you have 1,2, or 3 keys station on your stage.
Ask yourself – “What can I do, to do this song justice?”
The songwriters for literally every worship song spent hours and hours and hours crafting it the way that it was given to them (by God, remember?). Why not do what we can with what’s in front of us, to play it the way it was written? I don’t mean just chords…but the SOUND as well. Whether it’s a warm shimmer pad, a big buzzy synth, or a mellow rhodes sound, do the best you can to do the song justice!
The only exception to the above, in my opinion, would be if the song was written earlier than 15 or 20 years ago. Odds are, there is a more modern way to play those, and I would encourage you to see what you can do to modernize it!
4) Not listening to the rest of the band
It is VITAL that you listen as you play. Listen to the drums and bass and fall into that groove. There is a reason they say that the drums and bass lay the foundation! If you’re playing your next greatest classical composition during a worship song while the drums and bass are slaying some awesome cut time, it ain’t gonna work, folks!
I follow drums and bass groove for a good 90% of my playing.
If it sounds like what you are playing just isn’t fitting, reassess your groove compared to what the drums and bass are doing.
So much of listening comes down to your monitor mix!!!!
Don’t be selfish with your mix and only have yourself blasted with the bare minimum surrounding it.
Having a monitor mix that doesn’t allow you to hear everyone else will more than likely result in you playing something that doesn’t fit with everyone else.
5) Voicing (or lack thereof)
Triads. Do. Not. Cut. It.
It’s as simple as that. There are sooooo many different ways to voice the same chord.
Yes, we all have our favorite voicings, but we shouldn’t play the same chord the same way every time we play it.
I remember when my piano teacher had this conversation with me and told me I was forbidden to play triads ever again. She said to go home and see how many different ways I could play the same chord throughout a song.
Simply by changing ONE aspect of the chord, even just putting one of the notes in the other hand or leaving the root out of my right hand, made a world of difference! Adding 2’s, sus2’s, sus4’s, major 7’s and major 9’s, minor 7’s and minor 9’s etc… adds so many more variations to the same chord. This goes for both lead and aux keys!
Spend some time with a progression, a song, or even just one chord, and experiment.
Also, If the chart says play a C2, do not play a triad! I repeat, DO NOT PLAY A TRIAD! It is suggested, more or less, requested by the chart that you play a C2. However, does this mean you can’t play another extension of a C chord? Say, a Csus2, or even a Cmaj7? No it does not! Color is color! Voicing is everything!
6) Not doing your homework
When you are learning a new song, don’t just listen to it and read the chart and think you’re good to go. Listen actively for the piano parts and lead lines instead of only playing the chords on the chart! (Shameless plug #2 – watch the Worship Online videos for the song!)
Also, think about who you have in your worship team playing. Do you need to cover a version of the electric guitar’s lead line for the intro because you’re out a guitar player this weekend? My goal is always to leave no gaps in the music.
If you have to look at your hands at any point during soundcheck or service, you are not practicing enough.
There is a deeper level of memory that you can get to with your playing where you can truly worship, if you just practice about 3x more than you think you have to. Also, as an MD as well, it is vital that I do not have to look at my hands while I’m playing, so that I can watch the worship leader and never miss a cue. The only time I look down is to change patches or tweak a sound as needed.
Your pianos and pads could be out of this world, but if your actual playing stinks, practice!
Practice actively trying to get better.
I tell my students this all the time. I can be a terrible driver, and say every day that I’m going to practice to be a better driver, by driving more. This won’t fix anything. I’ll just keep driving and be a terrible driver while doing it. What do I need to do? I need to actively practice driving and practice IMPROVING my terrible driving. The same goes for any instrument.
Some people will read this and go home and practice their scales until their fingers fall off. Will this make them better? No. You can know fundamental after fundamental but not know what to do with them.
Think outside the box when you’re practicing and improving your piano playing. How can I use my textbook piano knowledge to help improve my everyday playing?
Changing one aspect of your playing, whether it’s the rhythm in your pre-chorus, or the melody you added in the space between the lyrical phrases, or the voicing of the chords you’re laying down for the verse, each small change adds up to soooo much more!
7) Quit being content
Unlike some of my current favorite lyrics, we should NOT be content in every circumstance when it comes to our playing! It is way too easy to get comfortable, especially with songs we have played hundreds and hundreds of times. We MUST stay motivated to keep learning, keep growing, keep improving. Push yourself to play that song you can play in your sleep BETTER than the last 300 times you played it! There is always an opportunity in front of you to grow.
8) Not branching out
I have often seen a lack of motivation to learn material that isn’t required for the next church service. There is such a benefit to learning songs that are outside of the normal realm of music that you have to know. I’ve found I learned some of my most used concepts for improv from songs that I wouldn’t typically play on a Sunday morning.
If you feel like you barely have enough time to learn what you need to know for each service, and scoff at this idea, you’re not alone!
Busy seasons definitely exist! But you will MAKE time for your priorities. I encourage you to think about the next 6 months, and find a stretch of time that is maybe less busy than other seasons, and focus on pushing yourself to learn more content during that time!
To wrap this all up…
I encourage you to take a moment, pause, and remind yourself that the musical gift that you have was God-breathed into you. What an honor and a privilege it is to serve in the Kingdom of God by ushering His people right into the throne room. As we all know, this is a huge responsibility and can sometimes feel like a burden.
Stewarding your musical calling is not for the weak, the lazy, or the faint of heart.
If you’re going through a tough time, struggling with the week in, week out, of what seems to be a faster 7 days and less prep time every week, know that you’re not alone. There are so many out there in the same position.
Once we take the time to realize we are literally called by the Creator of the universe to be exactly where we are right now, it is so freeing. There is a GRACE to be in this position, we just have to rest in it. And when rest comes, it is so much easier to realize God is relying on us to bring our BEST each week, so that He can move and do what He wants to do in HIS church this weekend.
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