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Evangelistic Style Piano Playing

Learn to Play Hymns Using Chords


I wanted to share with you what I have learned in years of hymn playing using this simple technique.  If you follow these steps and practice diligently you will be able to play hymns.   Hello, my name is Francis Choate.


Playing Traditional Hymns

I have heard music instruction that says "Never Play the Melody for a Singer!"  Have you heard that?  Well, it doesn't work that way for hymns.  Hymn playing for church has always been:  the piano player plays the notes that the singers will sing.   The singers want to hear the notes to sing.  This establishes the melody without relying on their memory of a hymn.  There are hundreds of hymns and some have difficult melodies.  You can sing hymns much easier when the piano plays the melody.    I say, "The piano knows the tune." 


The technique that I will show you uses chords (left and right hand) along with the melody.   This is generally known as Evangelistic Style playing.   You will play octaves and chords and broken chords called "walking bass" with the left hand and chords and some single notes with the right hand.  At times you will play chords with both hands playing the melody.  Just learn the basic information and technique and then practice.  I think it is easier to play like this than to play the exact notes in the hymnal.  If you desire to play hymns on the piano, you can. Nothing that I will show you needs great piano playing ability, just a desire to play hymns. 


You do not need to learn a bunch of fancy moves on the piano because  the words of gospel hymns are more important than the music, so the emphasis should be the words not the music.  Some churches sing hymns and don't even use music.  The best gospel piano player is hardly noticed.  It means they are not messing up and they're not showing off,  but just providing a service of music.  This is why I say that playing hymns does not require great talent.   Just get your fingers on the right notes and keep the right timing.  Of course this still requires quite a bit of effort and practice.


Gospel music in churches sometimes is played using only chords.  The guitar is a favorite instrument.   If someone plays the piano, they might also play only chords.  This kind of music does not contain the melody.  The singers must handle the melody.  The musicians often are not able to read music.  They play "by ear" or by using pages of lyrics with chord symbols above the words.   This works for some hymns but sometimes the singer does not remember the tune perfectly.  This can make for some rather odd sounding hymns.  Also playing "by ear" limits you to hymns you have heard (and can remember).  There are many wonderful songs in hymn books that you have not heard. Just think if you learn to read music you could unlock those wonderful hymns for people to enjoy.


We will use chord symbols using numbers instead of letters.  This makes it much easier to transpose hymns to another key.


Beginning to Learn

These are the topics of study that you must cover. These are the steps to the goal of playing hymns.  You cannot rush any of the steps.  Each is a foundation for the next.  You must cover each topic completely.

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