Ideas in Worship Keyboard Improv Book Coming

In seeking to hone our improvisational capacities, the keyboard has advantages over single-line instruments, for it allows us to think more comprehensively about music—not only melodically but also harmonically. Ideally, we need an…

Abundance of Harmonic Possibilities. Why is that important? We may be searching arduously for the exactly right, fitting sonority in a piece. Obviously, our chances of finding it are much better if we have a slew of many-hued sounds in our experiential memory to draw from.  Even more fundamentally, the keyboard can help us understand chord structure and chord function. And as we make music physically with our fingers, the theory behind music becomes tactile, concrete, alive—less abstract.

Abundance of Examples. The two volumes employ well over a 1000 examples. Three kinds of examples are employed: (1) you’ll find abstract examples that express how a particular chord or harmonic relationship can function; (2) then it is demonstrated a number of times in different worship songs so you can see it’s potential and usefulness; (3) finally, you’re asked to “try it,” to apply it yourself in a piece where I know it can function effectively.

Transposition. Keyboard transposition is stressed in this book. Why? The repetition of playing a chord or short phrase (it’s various spacings and functions), over and over again in various keys, helps to establish it firmly in our inner ear and fingers. The goal is to acquire the actual “feel” of the chord or relationship, so we don’t have to think hard about it. A seventh, a ninth, or any kind of extension, has got to become as easy and effortless as playing a C major chord.

Transposition solidifies the thinking and hearing process. It tests whether we can apply concepts in another key. It forces us to think in new keys, and get “command” of those new keys. You may find that you can think better in some keys than others! We’ll keep our transposition examples really short (usually four measures), and we’ll use well-known songs you probably know. That will make it more fun and relevant.

Modulation. Once we can play songs in different keys, the desire emerges to have the capacity to fashion effective transitions, to be able to modulate and to craft segues within and between pieces. Modulations that lead to the coveted goal of achieving meaningful, flowing, seamless worship can usually be handled more competently by keyboardists than guitarists. So we’ll need detailed, specific training in this area.

Guitar Keys. In worship contexts today, guitarists (who often rule!) tend to avoid keys with flats. They prefer keys with sharps. Therefore I limit the range of keys to those you will tend to use most frequently. Once we can think in the keys of C, D, E (especially), F, G, and A, it’s relatively easy to extend our thinking to the flat keys. Furthermore, this limitation serves to reduce the “brain load” and allows us to cover more material, yet with the confidence we are truly grasping it.

Sing and Play. The ability to be able to sing and play simultaneously is invaluable when leading or accompanying worship—and it’s challenging! It takes extra energy and concentration to maintain good pitch, tone, and congregational eye contact while singing, and yet play fluently and rhythmically, barely looking at the keys. A higher level of keyboard mastery is demanded. We’ll be developing this skill along the way. I’ll supply the words to many songs so you can practice singing and playing.

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About Barry Liesch

Barry Liesch, Ph.D, Professor of Music at Biola University (La Mirada, CA). Head of Music in Worship program. Keyboardist, Arranger, Author. Published author of People in the Presence of God (Zondervan) and The New Worship (Baker Books). Teaching responsibilities: Worship Foundations, Hymnology, Worship Seminar, Pop Theory I, II, Keyboard Improvisation. Albums/CDs: Contemporary Keyboards, Moments with You.

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