Worship Keyboards: 12 Keys To Improving

(Photo: Unsplash)

So you’re playing keyboards for your worship band this Sunday! Here are some proven steps and practices to help you do a great job.


1. Download the charts & MP’3

  • Get your charts early. Start practicing as soon as the charts are available.
  • Download from PlanningCenter.com or other online sources. (Dropbox)
  • Put the charts on your iPad or print them off.
  • Download the MP3’s and make a playlist or use Planning Center’s Service app and Media player
  • Double check to see what keys you are playing in?
  • What key is the recording in? Transpose the MP3 if necessary. (Multitracks ‘Rehearsal Mix’ and PlanningCenter.com has an easy way to do this)

2. Listen to the original recordings

  • What is the keyboardist(s) playing on the recording?
  • What is the exact tempo?
  • When does the keyboard sit out?
  • What voicing is the player using?
  • What is the musical feel for this song?
  • Is this a keyboard song or guitar based song?
  • What are the lead lines that are important for you to play?

3. What are the best sounds to use for this set?

  • Piano Sound
  • E-Piano sounds (Rhodes & FM)
  • Strings, Pads & Vox
  • B-3 sounds
  • Pipe Organ
  • Ethereal sounds
  • Bass sounds
  • Brass patches
  • Layering

4. What keyboards do you have?

Spend time with your keyboards and mark down your favourite patches and learn how to access them quickly. Create your own user settings.

I’ve used many different Yamaha, Roland, Nord, Korg and Kurzweil synths and pianos. Here is my post on some of my favorites.

5. Should you use computer based sounds?

  • Multitracks.com has great downloadable patches from most of the major worship recordings.  The patches are available for the all main computer based programs.
  • Mainstage ($30) is a comprehensive and inexpensive program from Apple that allows your computer to be your main source. Here is a great tutorial on how to use it. There is also a Facebook page that is a great way to stay current with great sounds: Mainstage Worship Sounds. Here is a link to a video of how Hillsong is using keys on tour.
  • Omnisphere ($500) is a next level computer based program with a huge array of sounds and controls.
  • Ableton ($100-$950) is a very advanced sequencing and sound program that is great for live music. It is available at multiple price points.
  • Here is a great link to help you understand how to set-up your midi keyboard with your computer.

6. Think through the set

  • What sounds do you need?
  • When do you need to change sounds?
  • When do you need to transition from one song to the next and what is the best way to do that?
  • Make corrections to the charts
  • What is the road map? Highlight repeats, D.S. and Coda.
  • Highlight your parts, where do you sit out and where do you solo?
  • Mark in the sounds you need.

7. Practice

  • Use a click or metronome, playing in time is huge!
  • Practice on the keyboard(s) you are using live (if possible)
  • Don’t overplay. Again listen to the recordings, how much is the original player actually playing?
  • Play with the recordings. This will help you play in context.

8. Use strong voicing.

  • Chord coloring: What is the best inversion and voicing for this song.
  • Open 5ths, Add2 (9), add4 (11), sus 4, Major 7, Major 9, Inversions
  • Develop your ear for new chords

9. Band rehearsal: Listen for your place in the song.

  • Are you leading or supporting?
  • Listen for the vocals. What do they need to help support them?
  • Listen to the guitar players. Don’t get in the way if it’s a guitar tune.
  • Don’t overplay the left hand, listen to what the bass player is doing.
  • Find your place in the sonic spectrum.

10. Memorize the tunes

11. Work on your stage presence

  • Sing along
  • Smile
  • Move
  • Look at the audience

12. Worship God

  • Go from just playing music to actually worshiping! Get beyond the music! The most important thing you can do is worship God. 
  • The ‘Actions of Worship‘ are singing, playing, standing, lifting hands, clapping, shouting, dancing, bowing down and giving your life. How are you incorporating these into your worship time (in private and public)?