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Practical Tips for Church Pianists – How I Learned to Play A Prelude

Practical Tips
Do you play the prelude at your church?  If not, you may be asking, “What’s a prelude?”  A prelude is music 5 to 15 minutes before the service (or other event) begins. It is used to “set the mood”, and signal that the service is about to start. For a pianist who is learning (and we all should be!), it is also a good time to employ techniques you have been practicing.  Transposing, modulating between keys, and smooth segues between different songs are just a few of the things that are useful in preludes.

My first prelude was terrifying! I was a student at Crown College, and coming from a small church, was quite intimidated by the size of the church and school. I had played the piano publicly there two or three times, but only because I had been volunteered by some of my friends.

One morning at the end of Sunday School, the pianist who was supposed to play the prelude before the church service did not show up. I’m not sure if she was delayed, or sick, or what happened, but she wasn’t there. Our teacher (Bro. Kiser, for those who knew him) began asking, rather urgently, “Does anyone play the piano?” My “friends” quickly volunteered me, and before I knew it, I was at the piano. Bro. Kiser’s instructions were, “Play loud, play fast, and don’t stop until Pastor tells you to!”

And so I played, for about 15 minutes, and those 15 minutes seemed like eternity. I prayed that somehow the Lord would help me get through without it being a total disaster. I have no idea what I played, probably the same three or four songs over and over. I had nothing prepared, no experience at doing a prelude, and I couldn’t even stop between songs to find the next hymn! I knew the Lord had helped me, but I was sure it was terrible. I was SO relieved when it was time for me to stop. As I went to sit down, Bro. Kiser stopped me and said, “I want you to do the preludes from now on. And I would like you to be the pianist for the Knoxville Bible Class.”  I had the privilege of playing the piano for that class for almost two years.

I had to learn quickly, and without a lot of instruction! I’m thankful for the good example of the other pianists at the church. I realized that I needed some kind of plan for playing a prelude, and I began to work at being more prepared. In the next post, I will share a few of the things I learned that helped me.  If you have tips, I’d love to hear them!

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