The Ultimate Guide to Playing Keys at the End of a Sermon

  • Written By 
  • Christy Lozinski

The keys playing at the end of the sermon is incredibly unique because it’s the only truly spontaneous no-rules musical part of the entire service. So what in the world are you supposed to play?

You don’t have an entire band playing with you. There really aren’t too many “rules” you have to follow in this time. This can be freeing for some and terrifying for others! For some pianists, this is the most stressful part of the service.
I have had students in the past reach this point and encounter a “fight or flight” moment.
If you were trained classically or strictly on paper (not by ear), odds are you have subconsciously programed your brain to only play what’s written or set in front of you. Playing anything besides what each worship song requires is almost stressful! The thought of no rules, no songs, yet you have to play at the end of the sermon, is terrifying! You’re not alone.

Here are some basic guidelines that may will get you going and become a pro at end of sermon keys.

Play around with something you already know and love.

Pick a basic song that has good chord structure and different chords (or different order of chords) in the different sections. You can also pick and choose some of your favorite progressions in different songs and go through the different progressions.

For those that say, “Christy I’ve been doing that for months now and I just feel stuck!” This next part is for you.

Push your improve skills! Take some time during the week and just play.

You can start with a song you know, but then relax your heart and mind and see what else comes.
I remember this moment in my journey with keys and this was really hard for me. I was in awe of those that had more experience than me and made those intimate moments at the end of the sermon seem so effortless and “flowy.”
So whatever comes out, no matter what you think of it, enjoy it! Comparison is the thief of joy. One day you’ll get to where you want to be. But if envy is riding shotgun the entire trip there, then the moment you arrive envy is going to hop right back into the passenger seat and you’ll never be able to fully enjoy where you are.

Leave SPACE.

You do NOT have to play “end of sermon” style improv the same way you’d play the intro of a worship song. Don’t give into the pressure to fill every single beat. Let the chords breathe.
In this moment, it’s ALL about what God is saying through your pastor to speak into the hearts of the church. You do NOT want to get in the way or distract. I’ll say it again…..leave space!!

I’ll even move some and then specifically try to not play while my pastor is talking, and move more when he pauses.

This lends itself to a loose grasp of timing. And that’s okay! You don’t need your internal metronome screaming 72 bpm in your brain.  Just let the music breathe!

Don’t be Distracting

I’ve heard a few too many keys players over the years play with super colorful chords and lots of movement or more showy embellishments. I believe there is a time and place for that, but it isn’t at the most pivotal point of the whole service.
Our goal at the end of service should be a supportive role to the communicator, to elevate what they are saying, without really being noticed. A delicate balance, for sure!
 I ask myself, “Am I drawing the eyes and ears of the most musically inclined person in the room?” If so, then I’m being distracting and should keep it chill.

Use the “Question, then Answer” Technique

Another concept to try is having some motion in your chords and melody to form a sort of musical call or musical question, and then let it breathe, and then play the response.
My best example would be if I did a lazy-timed walk up from my 1 to 2 to a 1/3, let it breathe, maybe a little higher melody during the breath, then respond to that question with a quick 6, 5, 4 and let the 4 breathe.
After years and years of playing during these moments, I’ve definitely had some little micro-progressions arise (with the above tips applied) that I use almost weekly. I’ll give you the basic foundation of my secrets with the disclaimer that voicing is EVERYTHING. Extensions are also everything!!! So if you try some of these and don’t like it, try voicing the chords or extensions in a different way and see if that helps!

Here is the basics of the progressions I play:

1 5/7 4/6 ….1/3 4
2 1/3 4
6 5 1/3 then 2 or 4 work well after that
1 2 1/3 4
Lastly, pivoting between a 1/5 and then either just a straight 4 or a 5/4 to a 4.
All of the above can be rotated around or repeated in any order.

What will make it even more tasteful is using some melodic motion between your chords.

The more simple you start, the more one or two melodic notes will make such a difference going from one chord to the next.

Practice these Moments at Home

Open up YouTube, find a video of your favorite preacher, scroll to the last 5 minutes of their message, apply all of the above techniques, and give it a go! Talk to any good jazz or improv musician.. although what they play in the moment looks different, the reason they are able to do it is because they take time to practice developing the skillset.

Listen to inspiring instrumental piano music!

Open up YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, whatever you have and find some calming peaceful piano playlists, then dive deep into the discographies of the artists you love! Grab any and every idea you hear.
I was blessed to be under some great personal influences between my piano teacher growing up and the lead keys player that I played aux keys with for 8 years. I watched him like a hawk and did everything I could to absorb even just by listening to him play and grab ideas to try when I got home. It’s true that you become what and who you surround yourself with! Choose wisely!

I’ll leave you with this…

We sometimes forget the impact music has on setting the atmosphere for God to move on people’s hearts. Remind yourself that in those moments on stage, the same God who is working and speaking through the Pastor is living inside of you and can work and speak through you as you play. Trust Him to do so! It is far better to put in the practical work during the week and make some good habits of playing for end of service. When the time comes in the service, rely completely on the Lord to play what is needed in that moment.

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