Musicians have long argued about which is better for the church – musicians who play by note or those who play by ear. I’ve concluded there are advantages to both. I got a performance degree in classical piano that has enabled me to pick up a songbook, hymnal, choral arrangement, or lead sheet and figure out what’s going on fairly quickly. I can play for a variety of situations that require note-reading skills. On the other hand, I’ve been playing by ear for as long as I can remember. That enables me to play chord charts, improvise introductions and endings to songs, create a better flow between songs, and not have to rely on printed music.
If you’re a note-reading musician who wants to learn how to play spontaneously, or someone who plays by ear but wants to do it better, we’ll be offering a seminar at the WorshipGod06 conference called “Playing Spontaneously.” It will be taught by Pat Sczebel (guitar) and Jon Payne (piano), two Sovereign Grace worship pastors. Here’s the description:
“Congregations can be well served by musicians who know how to serve the need of the moment. A small team of musicians will demonstrate practical ways to sense that need and respond to it musically, both individually and as a group. Musical transitions, accompanying the spoken word, and listening are some of the areas that will be addressed.”
Why learn to play spontaneously? Not because spontaneous music is more pleasing to God, or because planning is less pleasing to God. Certainly not because spontaneity is the only way we can worship God, or because that’s how we’ve always done it, or because we don’t believe in playing skillfully before the Lord.
Playing spontaneously just gives us one more musical tool to help people see the glories of our great God and Savior. It may be as simple as playing a brief interlude to transition between two songs or enabling the leader to repeat the last line of a song to savor the truth we’re singing. It may be as complex as composing a song on the spot for a congregation to respond to a message. In either case, being able to play spontaneously enables us to respond in the moment to ways the Holy Spirit might be directing us.
Here is a Quote by Martin Lloyd-Jones about preaching but it can easily be applied to those who lead congregational worship: “Seek Him! Seek Him! What can we do without Him? Seek Him! Seek Him always. But go beyond seeking Him; expect Him. Do you expect anything to happen to you when you get up to preach in the pulpit?… seek His power, expect this power, yearn for this power; and when this power comes. Yield to him. Do not resist. Forget all about your sermon if necessary. Let Him loose you, let him manifest His power in you and through you” (The Sacred Anointing, Tony Sargent, p. 57).
Of course, the Spirit can use us in powerful ways as we play notes we’ve practiced for hours over months of rehearsals. But isn’t it helpful to be able to do both?