Category Archives: Music Planning

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.

A Plan for Offertories

Some churches have many options for musicians to use during offertories. Others, have just one — you! If this is the case, chances are there is more on your plate besides just offertories. I have found that in the hustle of preparing for choir specials, congregationals, and other special music, sometimes choosing and practicing the offertory can become a last minute occurrence. Today we’ll discuss a few brief tips and tomorrow we’ll finish up with some more planning tools. Here are a few thoughts that might help lighten the load.

1. Plan – Look at a whole month and determine how many offertories you’ll be expected to play. Write out a plan using congregationals, intermediate pieces, and songs you’ve already prepared. (More on this tomorrow)

2. Do not feel that every offertory has to be astounding – It’s better to be prepared with a more simple selection than to wing it with a more difficult song that really needs more practice.

3. If possible, employ the help of other musicians. Anyone who plays an instrument, helps out occasionally, and especially children or teenagers who are taking lessons are fair game to involve in the offertory schedule.

 Planning an offertory schedule eliminates last-minute anxiety and guilt. Even twenty minutes a month can really make a difference. Keep your list by the piano and practice when time allows.

Platform Logistics

How is your church platform set up? How well can you see the pulpit? Do you have enough room to sit comfortably on the bench?

These seemingly little details make a big difference. I played in one church where the piano faced an outside wall. My back was to the choir director – not the best situation!

My preference is to watch the faces or mouths of the people for whom I am accompanying. This way I can be sensitive to any catch breaths, tempo changes, etc. We have a digital piano in our church that sits farther back of the stage, making the angle difficult for accompanying. I have to be even more attentive when playing on the digital piano for this reason. It is important to be able to follow the performer.

Keep your area around the piano neat and organized! Music books stacked on the piano are distracting to the audience. Take your music with you when you leave the piano or set it down out of sight. Our pianos have shelves next to them for storing the hymnbooks and other music. These are relatively new additions and I love them already!

Do you have any tips for improving visualization at the piano? What methods do you use to keep your music organized?

Are You Feeling Intimidated?

If you are just getting started with accompanying, do not be intimidated by the music! Be encouraged and motivated to learn a new skill – a much-desired skill in churches!

I have tried to list a few practical steps for those of you just getting your feet wet.

1.   Know the song. You might get music for a song you have never heard – see if you can find a recording of the song to help you become familiar with it.

2.   Practice on your own. Go through the song on your own practice time before you schedule a practice time with the individual. You will play more comfortably and your singer will feel more confident, too.

3.   Make notes on the music. Mark up the music if you are able. I have learned that relying on my memory does not always work. If an interlude is needed between verses, I will make a notation of that on the music. Use pencil, though, especially if the music is not yours.

4.   Rehearse as you will perform. Practice with the sound equipment on in the auditorium. Pretend as if you are in the service. Play with the same intensity and emotion that you would in the moment. Watch the performer and follow his lead.

5.   Learn from mistakes. Use mistakes in practice as a learning tool. Often, someone will come in at the wrong time (in practice). I might point it out and rehearse that part again. In my mind, though, I know that they might come in wrong during the service. So, I’ll watch them even closer during that section and follow them, even if it means skipping a measure to keep up with them.

Accompanying is a challenge, but it is also very rewarding! Do not be discouraged if not every song goes as planned. Remember that we are ultimately playing for the Lord and giving our best is what He desires. Practice, prepare, and then leave the outcome up to Him!