I started congregational hymn playing when I was only 14 years old. Our church pianist had to be away for about 8 weeks, and so I started playing early. It was hard at first, but I chose and practised the songs ahead of time. I have been playing off and on ever since then, and now I play Sunday Evenings at our home church.
Over the years I’ve taken hymn playing lessons from several amazing teachers, and I’ve picked up a few things from experience. Here are a few things that I would recommend either if you already play for congregational singing, or if you would like to someday.
- Learn your arpeggios! You can do some amazing things with long held notes once you learn these well.
- Add the tenor to the right hand, and double the bass in your left hand. This will take time, but it’s worth the effort!
- Read the words while you play. This may take some practise at first. If you can’t manage both, try to read the words to each verse before you play on the day. For example, there should be a difference in how you play a verse about a garden of prayer as opposed to a verse declaring the Glory of God. Think the words, and your fingers will feel the notes differently. Reading the words will also help eliminate playing too many verses! 😉
- Follow the song leader. I enjoy SO much playing for a trained musician. My dad taught me to follow his lead, and follow I will! But, in many situations, there is no one trained to lead, and so, I suggest you follow the loudest singer or you will train wreck the whole song! Congregational playing is not the time to take a stand on the exact way a hymn is sung, but, there is much you can do to gently nudge the singers in the right direction. For example, if the song is dragging, stay just the slightest bit ahead of the singers. On the long notes, play running 8thnotes at a slightly faster pace. The congregation will silently thank you! The key is to make slight changes, so as to enhance the song, in a way so discreet that only a few will notice.
- Instil confidence in the congregation by your introductions, and by all means, do not hesitate yourself! Play the introduction at the speed at which the song should begin.
I hope these tips will help you as you play for your church or as you prepare for congregational hymn playing in the future. Do you have any further tips to add? I would love to read them in the comments below!