I write regularly for Worship Musician Magazine. One of my recent articles spoke of those moments many keyboard players on worship teams encounter when they’re called on to play during a prayer time or quiet ministry moment. In this article I suggest some ways you might do something other than play a familiar song with its standard chords again and again. When you’re playing alone you can take melodic and harmonic liberties that wouldn’t be possible if other musicians were playing with you.
On Our Own
In considering what to write here, I’ve realized that I haven’t written much about those moments when we keyboard players are playing on our own. On Easter Sunday in my church I had one of those moments. The band had been all in for our first three songs. Drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, me on keys, 3 vocalists. Fairly typical modern worship instrumentation.
When it came time for us to celebrate a number of people being baptized (we’d set up the baptismal right in front of the stage where the band played), I was asked to play alone. The logic was that a single instrument would be least likely to drown out what was being said during the baptisms.
Because I know that some of you who are reading this sometimes are in a similar situation, I want to explore some concepts that might influence what could be played in those moments. It’s most common for a musician to choose a familiar song and play it again and again as an underscore for what’s taking place in a service. One of the interesting things about playing solo keyboard at a time like this is that we can go wherever we want to harmonically. We can extend the intro. We can repeat the first phrase of the verse again and again. You get the idea. There’s complete freedom to do whatever we want. Of course we have to be careful that the music we make doesn’t distract from the ministry that’s taking place.
That said, there’s no reason what we play can’t be creative. We can (and should) stay engaged musically rather than going into “Here come the same chords for the 400th time” mode. I’ll use “10,000 Reasons” as my example and explore some ways I might play this well known song as underscore. Here’s the standard harmonization of the Chorus in the key of D. Listen to me play this example here. Like I said, this is solo piano now. No chord chart or leadsheet to follow. Here’s an idea for taking some liberties with the melody and chords of the chorus: Listen to me play this example here. The above example uses some chords that are not in the key of D. It also changes the key center to the key of A for a bar in measure 3.
I understand that these kinds of harmonic liberties might feel out of place stylistically for your ministry setting. No problem. Here’s an option for playing the chorus using chords in the key of D and their inversions: Listen to me play this example here. Visit my website (kerrtunes.com) to download my Reharmonization Worksheet This worksheet can help you find places to go harmonically like those I used in the two examples above. Challenge yourself to introduce some variety into the repetitions of whatever you play.
Give hints of the song’s melody, perhaps even play it through once in its original form, but let the repetitions of the section have variety. Melodic freedom. Harmonic variety. Inversions. Chords held for different lengths than usual. Perhaps a few non-diatonic chords. The canvas is blank in these ministry moments. Let your palette of colors be rich and your creativity unbridled.
Download the PDF of this article here.