I get asked a lot about keyboards in modern worship, as I have played in worship teams as well as been a worship leader for many years. So, I thought I’d give away some practices that have allowed me to succeed in that role. Whether you use a traditional keyboard like a Nord, Korg, or Yamaha or a soft synth from your laptop or iPad, these tips should apply. By the way, I have written a couple other posts specifically on the differences of using these: Modern Worship Keyboards: Laptop vs. Traditional Synth or Modern Worship Keyboards: My setup for loops, clicks, and keys with MainStage.
Less is More: The first lesson to learn is to unlearn all the modality, fancy runs, and riffs. Playing in modern worship is more about color than flash. So, learn to play right-handed and get to love pads with whole notes held over several measures. (Yes, for the rest of you non-keyboardists, I said “measures” and “whole notes” which are those musically noted lengths of time in notes and meter that exist even when given only a chord chart).
Score out Motifs: Motifs are those endlessly repeated lines a non-keyboardist producer had someone put on a recording that you are asked to repeat. To keep them straight, I write cues, or I even score them out. Sometimes I do this by just naming the notes such as this: “C – B – C – F – E – F.” Or, I will write it on makeshift staffs on my chord charts.
Pads – Pads Pads: You have to learn to glue the band with a proper pad. I like analog-ish and fat sounding pads for one choice. Then, I choose a second that is shimmery. Strings might work on a more acoustic piece. But, be careful of oscillating patches because in the lower end you will kill the mix.
Patches, choose wisely: You can kill a moment if you do not map out the patches ahead of time. Be sure to check BPM (beat per minute) so you can match the tempo with the effects on your setup. Some, like the Nord, can tap the delay in. Others, you might simply have to go to an edit window and put it in directly. Regardless, this is a must. Name the patches by song and save so you can simply call it up next time you do that song in six weeks.
Practice Transitions: When the song ends, are you ready to switch the patch and hold out the pad before the click comes on in your ear? When the pastor comes up, do you know to play in the key and progression of the next song so the worship leader can jump in when he wants? Practice all of this and be sure that your worship leader is confident you have this prepared.
There are more tips to share, but these five should easily improve your success at the keys in your worship team.