Children begin taking piano lessons for many reasons. Most often, it is because their parents want them to learn an instrument. Children arrive at the door of the local piano teacher, and weekly lessons ensue. They typically participate in a few recitals and occasionally enter a festival or competition.
Preparing for weekly lessons and recitals is fine, but it may not make a student a proficient pianist. Church pianists need to be proficient in many areas. Teaching to that end is a long and intentional process. Conversations with ministers of music and church musician friends have confirmed that church pianists are loyal individuals serving God with their gift of music.
When surveying those who are in the trenches of church music as to what they consider essential for church pianists, the answers are resounding: sight-reading ability and flexibility.
How can piano teachers teach the next generation of church pianists? Read on and let me know if you agree.
Experience is the best teacher!
● Allow young students to play in a service. Assign them a piece for the offertory or the prelude.
● If you are having a youth Sunday, let them play the hymns or worship songs. Have them accompany a children’s choir or the youth choir.
● Young pianists need the opportunity to play with a congregation. They can’t stop to fix a mistake, so they learn to keep the pulse going. This is hard to teach, except through the experience of playing in a service.
Hymns are hard.
● Assign one or two a month and they will get easier.
● Pick hymns that are familiar to the student.
● Christmas is a great time to start learning from the hymnal.
● Find hymns that have a simple bass line, like Nothing But the Blood.
● If your church uses lead sheets and more contemporary music, then make sure you are teaching chords. This is a great way to make theory applicable.
Sight read, sight read and more sight reading!
● Performing on recitals and at festivals is great, but different from playing every Sunday.
● Church pianists play new music all the time, so they need to be good readers.
● Want tips for sight reading?Visit these sites: https://bit.ly/2C2f78B and https://bit.ly/2FGOSGf.
● Be familiar with various styles: high church, gospel swing and lead sheets.
● Have some songs in your back pocket for communion, preludes, weddings and funerals.
● Be ready to change at the last minute.
Church pianists are not made in a day, and current ones are not getting any younger. Let’s encourage the next generation to develop and use their piano skills in the local church.
Soli Deo gloria!
By Kathyrn Nobles, Berry College, Rome, GAKnobles@berry.edu
Kathryn Nobles is an adjunct lecturer in music at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, where she teaches class piano, private lessons, piano pedagogy and serves as a staff accompanist. She has operated a private piano studio for 40 years. She is the director of Kindermusik of Berry College, which serves 200 families in the Northwest Georgia area. Previously Kathryn served as church pianist, children’s choir coordinator and choir director at a local Baptist Church. She currently serves in various ministry positions at Seven Hills Fellowship and is often a substitute church pianist in the Rome area. She is the president of the Rome Music Teachers Association and is frequently a judge for regional piano competitions and festivals. She is married to Randy, a retired educator, and they have four adult children. Her two favorite mantras are: practice everyday that ends in “y”, and life is too short to work on Sundays.