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Practical Tips for Church Pianists – My #1 Practical Principle

Practical TipsIf you were ever one of my piano students, I hope you know what I’m about to say! My #1 principle is……….. (drum roll, please)………”It is better to play a simple piece well than to play a difficult piece poorly.” This applies to everything we play! Whether we are playing a congregational hymn, a prelude, or an offertory arrangement, we need to do our best. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this is the qualification the Lord is looking for.

However, I think sometimes we interpret playing our best as playing something difficult or complicated. This can be very discouraging for a beginning pianist, or for the church pianist who is very busy with limited practice time. Playing skillfully does not necessarily mean playing something complex or advanced. It simply means playing something well.

Choose an arrangement or a song, and make your first goal to play it accurately (notes and timing). Then work to play it with expression. I would much rather hear someone play a simple song perfectly and expressively, than to hear someone stumble through a more challenging song.

This is not an excuse to play only those things with which we feel comfortable. We should constantly challenge ourselves to learn new techniques, develop new skills, and practice new music. However, trying to play something that isn’t prepared sufficiently is only going to do a disservice to the piece we’re trying to play, and cause embarrassment and frustration.

While there is no doubt that our nerves can cause us to publicly stumble on a song we have played well privately, nervousness is something that will improve with prayer and practice. Be diligent to practice your techniques and songs until you can play them with confidence. As you do this, seek to move from playing with your mind (focused on keeping up with every note and beat) to playing with your heart (focused on sharing the message of the song with your listeners). The goal for a church musician should not be to impress others with our abilities, but rather to express the message of the music we are playing in order to glorify the Lord.

“Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.” (Ps. 33:3)

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2 Responses to Practical Tips for Church Pianists – My #1 Practical Principle

  1. Elizabeth Ann Valavil says:

    Our church has a Ladies morning where one has to play whatever is requested – is that a reasonable expectation? We have 15 mins notice for the Sunday ( where I play the organ – a Spinet not a pipe organ) . I’m doing Grade 7 piano at the moment to try and improve sight reading and general skills but find the request time very difficult as we have about 3-400 choruses to choose from. I’ve chosen about 30 choruses that I’m comfortable with but very often people want something else instead . Do you have any suggestions as to how I can improve performance at that time. Ps Sunday’s are going well, Praise The Lord, but the weekly get together is very challenging for me. Ps I only took up piano at age 30 and since then done classical organ to Grade 5 as well as Grade 6 piano exam. I’d really any suggestion you may have. Many thanks, Elizabeth

    • Niki Lott says:

      I’m sorry it took me so long to answer your question. If you are comfortable with sight reading, that is not an unreasonable request, but if you’re not, it is certainly a difficult one. Could you ask them to submit requests a week in advance? That would give you some time to learn and practice the songs and not just be put on the spot.

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