Forward to Piano Worship, Book One

Would you like to become an accomplished improviser? Do you have a burning desire to help your congregation sing with energy and conviction, and bring out the theology in worship songs? Do you aspire to create interesting bass and melody lines, or captivating harmonies?

Would you like to collaborate with a band, contribute ideas, develop your skills as an arranger, and be able to transpose any worship song into another key?

Would you love to have at your fingertips a wealth of ideas on what to do, how to proceed, and concrete ways to develop yourself improvisationally?

Then this book is for you!

Learn, Integrate, Apply. In this book, techniques will be clearly explained so you can learn them. An abundance of musical examples will provide you with opportunities to test and try them, and learn how they function in real musical situations. Then integrate them into your thinking. Absorb them. Let them become part of you. Get the shapes of the sounds into your very fingers. Finally, apply them. Use them. See what you can do. Graft and transplant them into part of a worship song or a complete arrangement of your own devising.

A major objective of this book and series is to provide you with the tools to build your own musical style (language) for the glory of God.

For many years I have been teaching keyboard improvisation at Biola University, an evangelical university of 6000 in the Los Angeles area. Most of my students are music majors whose primary instrument is the piano, undergrads with “classical chops” who possess quite a bit of technique. Many read music notation fluently. The majority, however, cannot improvise, cannot think in music, do not have a practical grasp of how sounds relate (function with one another), or do so in a simplistic, halting fashion. They don’t know what to do. They have not experienced the freedom inherent in improvisation.They are most comfortable with notated music.

On the other hand, I’ve had other students who are pretty good improvisers with real imagination, but may read traditional notation slowly and hesitantly. The differences between the two, in both background and aptitude, can be startling, extreme! The classical folk read. The improvisers seek to invent. However, the improvisers, too, are limited in their understanding of how music works. They have meager resources and lack the musical concepts to develop their ideas effectively. This is my attempt to meet the needs of each of these diverse learners.

I’ve discovered different kinds and levels of approaches for different students. Many times I’ve gone back to my office after a lesson and have added another step or example to improve clarity. In other words, these materials have undergone much thought, testing,and revision. My sincere thanks to you, my students, for helping me understand your needs and desires better. I’ve learned much from you.

Problem of Transitory Worship Songs. A major problem concerning the transitory nature of contemporary worship music needs addressing. I appreciate that young people, particularly, would like the book to contain the very latest, “hot” worship songs. But this doesn’t make much sense for a book of this sort. Unfortunately, many of the latest songs tend to last a couple of years and they’re gone. Nobody seems to be singing them anymore. The “turn over” rate is astonishing and unrelenting. Strange as it may seem, if this book were to major in current worship songs, it would quickly become outdated!

Therefore, I’ve chosen well-known hymns and worship choruses with at least some proven staying power—songs students may know and continue to us.and are free of copyright protection. However, in actual lessons and where ever possible, I have incorporated songs when students exclaim, “I love that song!” These are their songs of heart-felt worship. I’ve learned they are really important to them. So I often respond, “Let’s look at that song too.” It could be an Asian or Latino song. Students love this! It’s motivating.

Acoustic Piano. This book does not address synthesizer capabilities or idiomatic ways of playing strings or B3 organ sounds—important skills. It has grown out of teaching a keyboard lesson to a student in a room with an acoustic piano. That’s it!

Intermediate to Advanced Keyboardist. These books are aimed toward college-level students who have acquired at least a minimum of two semesters of music theory. I expect these volumes to be useful to both undergraduate and graduate keyboardists. They deal predominantly with harmonic possibilities which are a foundational building block, less with rhythm. The four books in the series gradually increase in difficulty. Books 1 and 2 begin at the intermediate level and morph to a semi-advanced level. Books 3 and 4 are mostly advanced. In total, about 1100 examples are presented.

Easy Examples. Detailed Approach. Achievable Chunks. Even if individuals may not know much music theory and their sight-reading may be deficient, the books should still provide solid value. Why? Many examples are extremely easy to read. Moreover, the detailed approach, replete with an abundance of music examples and explanatory comments, communicates in simple English what is going on musically and theoretically. It attempts to break down harmonic and improvisational concepts into small, achievable chunks. You should also know that I have a comparatively small hand. Some 10ths I can play, others I have to roll. Therefore 10ths may occur more sparingly here than in other books. Good news if you have small hands!

Fulfilling a Promise. In another worship book I wrote, The New Worship:Straight Talk on Music and the Church (Baker, 2001), I called for an outpouring of worship materials in all areas, including music, the dramatic and visual arts, and works that would embrace the theoretical, practical, and pedagogical. I pledged myself to contribute to the effort (p.35). These keyboard volumes are part of my effort to make good on that promise. My desire is to bless the thirsty worship keyboardist.If another contributor can borrow from what I have written, improve upon it, and advance the field, terrific! Nothing would make me happier than to see the Church built up, riseup, and offer a paean of praise to our Lord Jesus Christ.

No Greater, Higher Function. Without doubt, many wonderful, marvelous things can be done with music. But I feel confident in declaring this without reservation. There is no greater, no higher function that music can have than to lead people in worship, and toproclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.