Category Archives: Accompanying

ForScore: Music App for iPad

Several of you have shown interest in how I use my iPad for the music service. Hopefully, this article will help explain the concept and how it works.

I am already so addicted (if I can use that word) to using my iPad for the hymns and I’ve only been using it for a little over a month. There are more possibilities to how I can use it in the music service, but I’m trying to learn carefully and not over-do it. The last thing I want to do is flub up the service because I don’t know what I’m doing.

Ok, with that being said, here is the process I use:

1. I downloaded the app ForScore from the iTunes Store. It isn’t free, but the $6.99 or so that you will spend will be so worth it. (If you look for the app on your iPhone, it won’t come up. It’s an app for iPad only, so you have to look for it on your iPad…makes sense.)

You may ask why I use ForScore? Well, it’s simple. My music director uses his iPad for the service and he uses ForScore. He’s the one who recommended it to me, so wha-la, that’s what I use. Plus, it makes much easier for sharing files…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

2. Unfortunately, ForScore doesn’t come with the hymns pre-loaded. I wish!!! So, the question that everyone wants to know, how do I get the songs on my iPad?

My music director scans the hymns from the hymnbook into PDF files (individually for each song). He then uploads them to Dropbox. (If you’re not familiar with Dropbox, you need to be. You can set up a free account and share/store files and access them anywhere.) Dropbox even has an app for the iPad!

We share the music folder on Dropbox. I pull the PDF files from Dropbox and open them in ForScore. Once you open them in ForScore, they are automatically saved. Nice. Our files are named by hymn number then the title (ie: 591 Have Thine Own Way).

NOTE: It is convenient to use the same app/program as my music director because you can email files from ForScore (in case a song doesn’t get added to Dropbox).

3. Once I have all the hymns stored in ForScore, I’m ready to make my setlist (like a playlist). I name my setlists by the date of service and AM/PM. I add my hymns for that service in the order they are listed on the order of service. If a song changes or the order changes I can easily rearrange the order of the songs.

Then I select the first song in the setlist and I’m ready to play!

4. This is where I absolutely LOVE using the iPad vs the hymnbook. The hymnbook is so big (at least ours is) and the pages are difficult to turn while transitioning to the next song. For example, we might sing 43 All Hail the Power and then have to transition to 772 When We All Get to Heaven. Do you know how cumbersome it is to flip/turn 700 pages while transitioning to the next key?

On the iPad with ForScore, you only have to tap the screen (on the right side of the screen) and it will turn to the next page. If the song has two pages, you will have to tap the left side of the screen to go back to the next verse…but that’s ok. I started out swiping the screen, which also worked, but then I discovered I could tap the screen and it worked just as well.

Aren’t you just a little curious to try it? Doesn’t it sound incredible?

Like I said before, there is a bit of a learning curve when first starting out, but take your time and practice with it. The pros definitely outweigh the cons! Speaking of cons, I will be doing an article here soon on some of the cons I’ve encountered so far (not many to be sure) and how to troubleshoot them.

I am loving all the comments and feedback you all are leaving on here and on Facebook! Don’t stop! I want to hear if you try ForScore, if you like it, if you hate it, all of the above. If you have a different method that works for you, I would love to hear that as well. We’re here to help each other provide a great music service for The Lord. Keep it up!


Long Nails vs. Short Nails

Ok…humor me on this one…

I feel like I am constantly cutting/trimming my fingernails. I have a job where I type all day and it gets very difficult to type with long(er) nails.

Plus, when I play the piano, I need my nails short. Now, I have the utmost respect and admiration for those who can play with those long, beautiful nails. I am just not one of them.

All of my piano teachers encouraged me to keep my nails short, so that is what I got used to. There have been times when I have played with longer nails and I did not feel comfortable at all. The clicking of the nails was very distracting to me.

I usually trim my nails every week – maybe every week and a half. There have been times when I have cut my nails too short.

The thumb especially hurts when this happens because the side of the thumb takes the brunt of the impact on the piano.

What abou you? How long do you prefer your nails when playing the piano?

How does the nail length affect your playing (if any)?

Playing with an iPad

How many of you like change? If you’re like me, change is not my favorite. But a couple weeks ago, I took the “change” plunge…

Our music director started using his new iPad to direct the music for the services. From my place behind him in choir, I was fascinated that all he had to do was seemingly tap the screen to turn the pages.

I had originally wanted to get the iPad mini, but I was advised that the regular size had better resolution for music. So I saved up my money and got one. Fun stuff! Now I had to learn how to use it for church.

I bought the app forscore, which allowed me to put the songs in a playlist.

My music director sent me the hymns in PDF format, which I opened in forscore. Once I had the playlist (setlist) ready, all I had to do was swipe the screen and it would turn the page. Even if it was a new song, I just had to swipe the screen.

The first Sunday I used my iPad, I was instantly addicted. The benefits are awesome…

No more turning/handling/lugging around the ginormous hymn book. It is so heavy!

I can see now over the piano music stand! Before, the hymn book was taller than the stand and I had to strain my neck to see the music director. I’m on the shorter side, so I still have to strain a little.

Since I’m on a rotation schedule, I don’t play for every service. But I’m looking forward to trying more with my iPad, like choir songs and special music accompaniment. If I’m really brave, maybe I’ll use it for an offertory!

Do you have an iPad that you use for the music service? I would love to hear from you!

Preparing music for National Day of Prayer

Are any of you playing music for National Day of Prayer this Thursday, May 2nd? I’m not personally, but my sister just texted me that I should do a post on it. Apparently, she is scrambling to find music to play! So, if for no one else, at least this might help my sister…of course, she could have just called… 🙂

If I were putting together a list of songs to use for a prelude (which is what my sister is doing), I would use patriotic songs for sure (I’ve included the most common keys that these are usually written in):

1. America the Beautiful (key of B flat)

2. My Country ‘Tis of Thee (key of F)

3. Star Spangled Banner (key of A or A flat)

4. God Bless America (key of F)

5. Faith of our Fathers (key of E flat)

Can you think of any others that I’m forgetting? I’m not looking in the hymnbook right now…

Then I would add some other retrospective songs, such as:

1. Sweet Hour of Prayer (key of C)

2. Draw Me Nearer (key of G)

3. Near to the Heart of God (key of D flat)

Any others?

Then, I would mix and match the songs according to their keys/relative keys for easy flow and modulations, like this:

1. America the Beautiful (B flat, modulate to C)

2. Sweet Hour of Prayer (C, modulate to D flat and repeat)

3. Near to the Heart of God (continue in D flat, then modulate to D and repeat, then modulate to E flat)

4. Faith of Our Fathers (E flat, modulate to F and repeat)

5. My Country ‘Tis of Thee (F – maybe switch meter on 2nd verse to 4/4)

6. God Bless America (F, modulate to G)

7. Draw Me Nearer (G, modulate to A flat and repeat)

8. Star Spangled Banner (A flat)

Many times, these types of services will begin with the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem. In this case, you would be ready to play the national anthem since you would already be in the key of A flat!

If you are looking for a special patriotic solo, here is a terrific arrangement of “America the Beautiful.”

If you are accompanying a soloist, keep the accompaniment simple. Don’t divert attention away from the soloist.

What else can you think of to prepare music for the National Day of Prayer? Please share your ideas, as I’m sure other pianists are busy preparing similar music.

Band-Aids and Accompanists

So…I was washing the dishes last night and one of the items was a glass spaghetti jar. (Always good to be frugal and reuse things, right?) Anyways, as I was carefully washing the glass jar, I was reminded of the time when I was traveling with a music group in college…

We were traveling during the summer and visiting a different church almost every night. At this particular church, they decided to feed us before the service. We were supposed to be polite and offer to help clean up, do the dishes, etc. I actually enjoy washing dishes (weird, I know) so I offered to do just that. However, during the dish-washing, I had my hand inside a mason jar when the jar just broke and, consequently, I cut my hand. (Remember, pianists have super strong hands!!)

Fun stuff!!! I was supposed to play for the service in less than an hour and now my hand was bleeding. (Ok…so it was just a small cut, but it did bleed. We pianists have to do something for attention every now and then.)

Someone found a Band-Aid for me, and I was able to get the cut to stop bleeding. It’s always kind of fun to play the piano with a Band-Aid on…makes you feel like you’re being so strong and brave!!

I remember during the intermission of our presentation (during the video), I went to the back of the auditorium and changed to a new Band-Aid…just to be on the safe side. I don’t recommend getting any blood on the piano keys, especially if you’re visiting the church.

So, that’s my story of being oh-so-heroic!!! Have you ever had a similar experience? I would love to hear your story!!

P.S. And, since you’re wondering…no, I didn’t cut my hand last night washing the spaghetti jar. But I did wash very carefully and with much concentration and prayer!!

Can You Hear Me Now?

The other morning I played for a men’s trio in a Sunday school class. The class met in the church auditorium so the men used the microphones. As soon as I started the introduction, I realized that the piano monitor was not on. This meant that I could not hear the vocals through the monitor either. Thankfully, I could see the men enough to read their lips as they sang. Also, I played considerably softer in order to hear them as much as possible.

My natural tendency when I cannot hear the piano through the monitor is to play louder and harder. That physically hurts my hands. My first priority is to follow the vocalists; adjusting the volume of the piano helps to accomplish that goal.

The song went fine and I think we stayed together. The men said they could hear the piano through their monitor. Amazing how a little sound (or the lack thereof) can affect the pianist and vocalists!

Do you have any stories involving sound systems/equipment? I would love to hear them!

Balancing the Accompaniment

Have you ever listened to a song and had trouble hearing the vocals because the accompaniment was too loud? A couple weeks ago, I watched a YouTube video where the instruments overpowered the vocals. It was very distracting to say the least. I started thinking about how we as accompanists can balance the accompaniment properly.

Of course, the sound system will play a part in this balancing act.  A good sound man understands that the accompaniment should be softer than the vocals (or other instruments, in case of an instrumental special). If you are accompanying without a sound system, you can properly balance the accompaniment using these following options:

1.       Listen. While this option might seem obvious, make sure you can hear the person whom you are accompanying.

2.       Use the soft pedal. This is a great option especially if no sound system is available.

3.       Play with a lighter touch. Maybe your piano does not have a soft pedal. Using a light touch on the keys will help the accompaniment sound softer.

4.       Play fewer notes. This option would be the last resort, but it works. Playing chords in half notes would produce less noise than rapid broken chords in sixteenth notes.

The word accompaniment carries the idea of supporting or complementing. My goal when I accompany is to support and complement other musicians, not overpower them.

Do you have any thoughts on this subject? I would love to hear from you!

What To Do When the Music Stops

Have you ever been accompanying and had the singer or instrumentalist stop in the middle of the song? Maybe they forgot the words, maybe they started to cry, or maybe they turned too many pages at once, etc.

We all hope these scenarios never happen, but they probably will sometime. Here are a couple examples that happened to me:

·         Instrumentalist – forgot to take a repeat, realized the mistake, stopped and started again. (This is particularly tough because instrumentalists do not have words that you can follow!)

·         Small vocal ensemble – Half the group paused for the interlude while the other half started right into the next verse. I kept playing (something) and waited to see what the majority would do.

·         Soloist – started the song on the wrong note, stopped and asked me to start the song over again.

·         Soloist – overcome with the emotion of the song, stopped and asked me to start over at the second verse of the song.

It is the least distracting if the music continues playing while the musicians get their composure or find their place. Since this does not always happen, we just have to make the best of it. It is always a good idea to discuss this possibility in practice and have a plan in case one of these scenarios happens in performance.

Introducing New Music

Last night, we introduced a theme chorus for our Missions Conference to the congregation. The song leader sang through the chorus once to let the congregation hear the tune. Then the congregation joined as he sang the chorus again twice through.

I knew that no one in the congregation had heard the song before (because I knew the song had only been written a few weeks before the conference)! Since the congregation unconsciously follows the piano, it was important for me to bring out the melody while they sang. Once they become more familiar with the song, I will branch out and add more “accompaniment.” For now, I need to remember that they still need the support of the melody on the piano.

Keep the following in mind when introducing a new song in church:

1.       Keep the tempo at a moderate speed. The congregation is trying to learn a new melody and new words at the same time – make it as easy as possible for them.


2.       Emphasize the melody. This is always important, but even more so if the congregation only has the words of the song. Their ears are relying on the piano to give them the tune.


3.       Listen to the congregation. Get a feel of how quickly they pick up the song. Adjust your playing (tempo, style, etc.) accordingly.

Musicians enjoy learning new music, and I am sure the congregation feels the same way. Do your part as the accompanist and make the learning process as smooth as possible. Follow the steps listed above and you will be able to add your own accompaniment in no time!

Transposing “In the Moment”

Transposition is a basic fundamental for all church accompanists. I am often asked to transpose a song to better fit a singer’s range. Usually, though, I have time to practice the chords or even write the chords on the music. Every now and then I have to transpose on the spot, which is what happened in this morning’s service.

During the invitation, I started playing the song using the key in the hymnbook. My song leader started to sing the first verse. The song was “Great is Thy Faithfulness” which does get somewhat high for a solo. Coming to the end of the verse, he motioned for me to transpose the song to a lower key. My mind frantically scrambled to think of what key I would go to and what chords I would need to use to get there. Thankfully, the pastor said a few words in between verses which allowed me to transition the song to the lower key.

I will confess that I did not play the song perfect in the new key. But I kept the bass notes correct, played the melody in the right hand, and just kept going. At least my song leader did not have to strain to sing the rest of the song!

Have you had any “in the moment” experiences? I would love to hear them!