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Three Basic Hymn Playing Techniques


The three techniques that you really need to play hymns are described here. 


Your playing will be an improvisation using a combination of these three techniques.


Remember, with gospel hymns the words are more important than the music.


Your right hand is always or almost always playing the melody note along with a chord.  The melody note is the top note in the hymn.


This page has practice exercises to get you started on the three techniques.


1.  Left Hand Octave, Chord

Practice the basic left hand octave chord technique along with right hand chord.  It goes octave, chord, octave, chord, with the left hand and chords with the right hand.   You must practice this in every scale.   Here is the notation in the key of C.






2.  Left Hand Broken Chords

Below is the notation for playing an arpeggio with the left hand.  I call this a "broken chord" or "walking bass."    This is a very useful technique to fill in during long melody notes.   You play the notes of the chord one at a time with your left hand.  You use four fingers of the left hand, your little finger plays the lowest note and your thumb plays the highest note an octave above the lowest.  (And two other fingers for the other notes.)


Most of the chords have four notes, so instead of the octave on top, just play the four notes of the chord.   For example, if playing C7, you could play with the left hand C, E, G, Bb.


This gives you an idea how to practice.   Improvise your own practice routine using chords with the right hand and broken chords with the left hand.




Again, be sure to practice this in every scale.



3.  Chords With Both Hands

At times you can simply play part of the hymn just with chords and a few single notes.  Below is a hymn written out entirely in chords to show you how it works.   You play a chord with each hand at the same time.  There are a few single notes between some of the chords.  In this hymn every single melody note is a chord tone.  You move the chords around playing different inversions while keeping the melody note on top.


Amazing Grace



This is a very useful technique for playing parts of hymns.  You probably would not play the whole hymn like this but use combinations of the different techniques according to what you feel like doing.  That's called improvising. 


This is a good hymn to begin transposing practice.  Try playing this hymn in other keys.


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