If 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)