Church pianist tips and tricks

February 22, 2018 - By 

Church music ministry looks different than it did 20 years ago, and even 10 or 5 years ago things were vastly different than they are today. Church pianists have to adapt. Skills that worked long ago must be developed, updated, and built upon.

As one of our church’s pianist, I’m constantly reminded of the need to change things up. Change is a good thing. Here are a few ways you can change things up, and hopefully see improvement in your worship service.


Less is more. That’s never been more true than today. It used to be more desirable to be a flashy church pianist. I remember being in awe as I heard church pianists in college who executed stunning arpeggios and runs. But when it came down to it, I’m not really sure that helped me to sing better. (In fact, as an observant, aspiring musician myself, it was probably more distracting than anything.)

I’m not suggesting that we need to be less creative. The fact is, it takes a great deal of creativity to accomplish your accompanying goals in a minimal manner, as opposed to using more and louder notes. Less truly is more.


When it comes to congregational singing, what is the most important element? The accompanist? No, not really. Sure, the accompanist provides support and confidence, but the singers are the most important part. It’s what it’s all about.

Seek ways to emphasize the congregational singing. For me, it involves not always playing the melody, especially when it’s a song that the congregation knows extremely well. For example, songs like “Amazing Grace,” “In Christ Alone,” and “I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” rarely need the melody played. I can emphasize the congregational singing by minimizing the notes that I play.


Let’s face it: The model and techniques we were taught in the university 20, 30, or 40 years ago aren’t always relevant to what we’re doing today. You’re going to need to modernize your approach. The stride that was popular generations ago is–by and large–rarely ever used today. I rarely use full 4-note chords to achieve a loud sound. I’ve found I can achieve a loud sound with just a few notes, and be even more effective.

I’m not suggesting that older techniques and effects were wrong. They served their generations well. It’s just that modern ears are used to something different. Find out what that is, and employ it.

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  • Thanks so much for your tips, James! I like the thought of not always playing the melody on really familiar songs. I would love to hear more tips on how to do this. I wish we could hear some examples from you. Thanks for your encouragement and ministry to pianists.

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