The Piano in Contemporary Worship, Part 1

Last summer at WorshipGod11 I taught a pre-conference seminar for intermediate level pianists to help them develop their skills while playing with or without a band.

In recent years I’ve taught more on the theology of congregational singing than the practical aspects. But I still enjoy teaching on the practicals. So here’s a video of the first installment, with notes included below.

Piano in Contemporary Worship, Part 1 from Sovereign Grace Churches on Vimeo.

General Principles


  • Excellence in all dimension of worship expression, including music, must not simply be defined by cultural standards of sophistication, but by the ability of the expression to strengthen, deepen, and develop faith. – (Bryan Chapell, Christ Centered Worship, 140)
  • We don’t strive for excellence so that we will be seen and honored, but so that Christ will be seen and honored.
  • Our gifts and talents are slaves to Christ.

Melody, rhythm, harmony.

  • Often contributing all three. Don’t need to.
  • Rhythm and harmony most important. People can carry the melody.


  • Not a strength for pianists
  • Time is a metronome. Groove is based on time, but has accents.
  • Inner pulse serves as the framework for everything else.
  • Involves thinking in larger segments of time
  • Different ways to communicate groove

Whole notes

  • Guitar feel in RH (dotted 8th – dotted 8th – 8th tied to half note)
  • LH thumb
  • Arpeggiated
  • Rely on percussion or other instruments


  • Chord to chord
  • Section to section
  • Growth over the song
  • Number of notes vs. force of attack


  • Sets people at ease.
  • Tempo, key, chords and notes…

Deliberate practice.

  • Geoff Colvin in Talent is Overrated: Designed to improve performance, high degree of repetition, immediate measurable feedback, mentally challenging, hard work
  • Metronome
  • Chord knowledge
  • Song knowledge
  • Practicing with others

Go to Part 2.

23 Responses to The Piano in Contemporary Worship, Part 1

  1. Jim Pemberton November 30, 2011 at 10:36 PM #

    As a pianist I appreciate this. We have a regular pianist so I rarely get to play with others. But I have found that what is best to do with a piano is contingent on the musical context. I’ve been in places where the choir or congregation required the piano or organ to lead the singing and you had to play the melody if nothing else.

    Most of the time I only accompany myself so I have to provide my own bass, chords and riffs. But I love to play with a group where I have a bassist, rhythm guitarist and even sax or riff guitar where I am free to fill in with chord pops, arpeggios and alternate riffs according to the style.

    Ultimately, you are right to point out the it is Christ who is to be honored and glorified. The goal is to ensure that worshipers have what they need to connect corporately in worship of Christ. That may mean keeping it simple where the temptation is to jam, or to emote musically in appropriate ways so that the music fits the words and attention is directed to understanding what we are all saying to and about Christ.

  2. Lisa Shoemaker December 1, 2011 at 2:14 AM #

    Thanks for posting this, Bob. I wasn’t able to attend the conference this year and was disappointed to miss this workshop. I know some of my piano students who like to work on worship music will also benefit from watching. Thanks for making it available – and I look forward to the other sections!

  3. karen engacia December 1, 2011 at 2:40 AM #

    thank you very much for this. big help and blessing to us! God bless you all the more.

  4. Brian Suman December 1, 2011 at 10:33 AM #

    Thanks so much for a great post and inspiration.


  5. Dave Helmuth December 1, 2011 at 4:04 PM #


    Thanks for such practical, well articulated training! If every worship keyboard player could watch this and apply it…so sweet.

  6. Jordan December 3, 2011 at 1:08 PM #

    I’m a guitarist and this video was helpful to me!

  7. susan hart December 3, 2011 at 5:40 PM #

    THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!!! what a blessing this has been!!!

    i applauded when the “victim” had to come up on stage and humble himself–he did GREAT!!

  8. Dave December 16, 2011 at 11:02 AM #

    Thanks Bob, that was excellent.

    Do you have any recommendations/references specifically for players of melody instruments, such as the saxophone? Much of what you said seemed relevant (I’ve only been at it 3 years), but I’m sure there are things to consider that would be specific to instruments like the sax.

  9. Dave January 13, 2012 at 11:16 AM #

    Hi Bob, I meant to thank you for the solo instrument link. As a sax player, I found it very good to help me consider issues specific to solo instruments. Thanks!

  10. Nathan Otwell October 5, 2012 at 3:43 PM #

    Definitely agree with the metronome advice. Too many piano players can’t keep time to save their life! It takes discipline to practice with a metronome but it’s crucial to be able to play with a band.

  11. Nathan Otwell October 5, 2012 at 3:44 PM #

    Good stuff! Practice with a metronome. It will save your life if you every try to record in a studio.

  12. Tara January 23, 2013 at 2:12 PM #

    Someone recommended this video, so I found the link, but the actual video is not showing up. Could you please direct me to a place where I can view the video? Thank you.

  13. samuel August 2, 2014 at 11:51 AM #

    Thanks. . For the lesson plese i want leran more about keybord cos I know nothing


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