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I was in the recording studio earlier this week with the Daybreak Quartet working on some upcoming stuff. They need me for a concert in Kansas in a few weeks where they are using only piano so there was a lot to cover.
One of the things that DB wants me to do is play boom chuck a lot. “Boom chuck” is a term used in the industry that refers to this:
I am not going to lie to you. This kind of thing puts me to sleep. But they are insistent that it works well for some for of the stuff they do so I don’t argue (I just make faces).
Then I try to get cute. For example, there are pretty cool rhythmic things you can do with this but they always tell me to stop. Then, I start putting in extra notes. In the above example, C is the I chord and F is the IV chord. To me, both are begging for an added major 7th. So I instinctively add them.
Nothing drives them crazier than my major 7th chords. There is a good reason for that. In general, they are pretty hard to sing because two voices are a half step apart. I arranged a song for them on their Hymns project with major 7ths and they did it so I know they are capable. But in general, that sound is not heard in Southern Gospel so they avoid it.
There is an easy thing you can do though that works well in the genre which I will show you in a minute, but first, study the above example and make sure you understand how to play the basic style.
First, chart the song (write in the chords). Then when you play it, in the left hand, alternate between the 1st and 5th of the chord with the left hand and play an inversion of the chord on beats 2 and 4 with the right hand.
Really, it is that simple. Sure there are ways to spruce it up such as walkups and walkdowns in the left hand and rhythmic patterns, but if you can do the basic pattern, you are good to go.
Now, if you want to spruce up the chords, you can, but you don’t want to do it using the strategies that I normally talk about. Really, there are just two safe notes that you can add to I and IV triads: the 2nd and the 6th. (You can add the 7th to all dominant chords including V and any secondary dominant.)
A quick refresher: the 2nd is two half steps up from the root of the chord and the 6th is two half steps up from the 5th of the chord. Or, if you start playing a major scale on the root of the chord, the 2nd is the 2nd note you play and the 6th is the 6th note you play.
Adding these two notes does greatly help your sound. Here is an example:
Notice that I added the 6th (A) to the C chords and the 2nd (G) to the F chord.
There you go. This is Southern Gospel Piano Playing 101 and I am not really a good enough SG pianist to take you much further. But hopefully, this is something you can use next time you are asked to play for someone singing something like this song (“I’ll Fly Away”).