The common church music service features a pleasant-sounding mashup of notes that are right and wrong. Normally, there are more right notes than wrong notes and everybody is happy. As a matter of fact, the average person in the pew does not even hear the wrong notes, and if they do hear them, they do not know who to blame.
Even if you do identify who to blame, can you really blame them anyway? The offending musician is probably a volunteer, quite possibly sight reading, and not in a position where they have tons of time to practice their music. It is completely unfair for anyone to expect perfection, or really, anything close to perfection from most church pianists.
Because of this, church really is a very safe place for musicians to make mistakes. So, here is my advice: go make them. And don’t stress about it. I certainly make mistakes on any Sunday I play in church.
But I am not going to let you off the hook that easily. There is something else that you need to bring to the table, mistakes and all. That something is boldness. Boldness is a big component in what makes church music work, and it is vital in making music come to life.
Boldness is also infectious. Your boldness will empower other musicians to be bold, and it will lead the congregation to be bold when they sing.
Here are three very specific things you will do if you are playing boldly.
1) You will strike every note hard enough to generate the appropriate volume even when you are not sure you are playing the right notes.
Normally, pianists that are not bold play too soft. However, I used the word “appropriate” on purpose because sometimes, soft is more appropriate anyway. The key is not to let fear keep you from playing every note or chord at the volume level you think it should be played at.
2) You will play in time.
Nothing frustrates a song leader more than musicians who are constantly behind the tempo he is trying to set. Almost always, dragging the tempo is a result of a lack of boldness. Musicians are unwilling to play at tempo because they know they are going to make mistakes.
Let’s say you just cannot play a fast song at the tempo the song leader wants to be at. There is a very simple solution to that problem–just leave out beats or divisions of beats. Rather than playing eighth note runs, just play a chord on the beat. Or play a chord on every other beat. With very fast music, you can play a chord on beats 1 and 4 and it sounds good. In fact, I do that kind of thing simply for stylistic reasons.
3) You will not be afraid to incorporate your personal style.
It is very hard to communicate what I mean here. I almost have to say that you know it when you hear it. But we all know the difference between musicians who play accurately in a sterile way and others who interject something special into their music. Let your style creep into your music. Those are the kinds of things that bring music to life and create special moments.
Don’t feel that your lack of boldness is completely related to your level of ability. Musicians at all levels struggle in this area. But working on boldness should be a priority for most of us. Boldness overcomes a multitude of problems and at the same time, plays a huge part in creating a successful church music service.