How To Play Hymns On Piano
In this lesson we will discuss the key principles for playing hymns and adding a blues, jazz, or gospel flavour to the accompaniment.
Usually when we are playing hymns, we are playing in the church which might involve a choir, singers, or even a full congregation singing along to your playing.
The most important and fundamental skill is playing the hymns in a format that people can recognise and sing along with. In this lesson we break down 4 important steps to play any church hymn with confidence.
Step 1 – Learn The Melody Inside Out
The most important part of a song is the melody and so the first step is to learn the melody and the most basic version of the chord changes. Here we have the melody, the lyrics, and the most basic 1-4-5 changes for the classic church hymn “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”:
Playing the melody correctly and learning the basic changes is the first step for people to gravitate towards your accompaniment in church.
Step 2 – Strengthen The Left Hand Bass
The next step is to make the accompaniment sound more full and balanced. We can do this by playing octave bass notes in our left hand and the chords and the melody with our right hand.
The easiest way to do this is to keep the melody on top of our right hand voicings which makes the song recognisable and accessible to the congregation.
Step 3 – Accentuate The Beat & Pulse
The third step is to create some rhythmic interest and to emulate the role of the band. If you are now playing with a drummer or a bass player then it is your role to dictate the tempo. This can be done by accentuating beats 1 & 3
Keeping a steady pulse gives helps the singers and congregation to follow and sing along with the hymn.
Step 4 – Add Embellishments & Bluesy Licks
We can add grace notes and embellishments to the melody which creates a more soulful interpretation of the tune. We can also add bluesy fills and licks as in the example below:
Embellishments and bluesy licks work best when they enhance the notes and contours of the melody. Notice how the example above highlights the notes of the original melody of the tune.
Playing Hymns With A Solid Pulse File Type: pdf
Adding Licks & Fills to Hymns File Type: pdf
The most important element is to keep the melody prevalent and the pulse of the song prevalent.
Spend time to truly master the melody, the lyrics, and the most basic chords before experimenting with more advanced voicings.
The pulse can be played on any beat of the bar. Playing the pulse on beat 1 can sound a little regimented and so experiment with other rhythmic accents.
Once we can play the hymn confidently with a steady pulse, we can start to embellish the melody with grace notes, licks, and other ornamentation as shown in the lesson demonstrations.