Worship Band - The Keyboard Player's Job

Adapted from a clinic taught by Jerry Tyson.  jerrytyson@earthlink.net

  • The Keyboard player is now responsible for modern synthesized sounds as well as sounds that were traditionally produced from the piano and the organ.
    • In only a very few scenarios would there be a need in the modern worship band for multiple keyboard players, or a separate organist / pianist.  
    • The Piano is traditionally the foundation of melody for vocalists. This may not always be the case in a worship band setting.
    • In the worship band setting, the keyboard has dual roles as a harmonically foundational instrument and as a color instrument.
    • The organ is also a color instrument unless specifically required for a song. Its role in the contemporary worship band has been reduced to a color instrument. It is not a significant source of melody or harmony.
    • The keyboard and the organ are very similar in that the tones of each can change drastically to add a broad spectrum of tonal qualities to any song arrangement.
  • The Keyboard player must have good time and good feel
    • A metronome or drum machine is a necessary tool to use to help internalize one's time feel
    • On ballads, arppegiate your chords, meaning open up and roll through the individual nots of a chord. 
    • Arpeggiating through the chord changes on a verse sets a beautiful contrast for a booming chorus.
    • A good way to achieve common time feels, and learn better grooves and styles is to practice with a drum machine. 
  • When using piano sounds, a Keyboard player should think of their instrument as part of the rhythm section.
    • The piano player's right hand, the ride cymbal, the high hat, and the snare drum are a unit. When the snare drum plays, accent notes in your right hand.
    • With a right handed drummer, a piano player's right hand should should line up and accent with the drummers right hand.
    • The piano player's left hand, the bass player, and the kick drum are a unit. When the bass drum and the bass player accent notes, the left hand should accent the root of the chord. 
    • The left hand should rarely play anything other than the root of the chord.
    • When the band is really booming, go up an octave, revert to open fifth in the right hand, and open octaves in the left. Too many notes in the chord will muddy the overall sound.
  • When using organ and synthesized sounds, a Keyboard player should think of their instrument as a color instrument. It is not a significant source of melody or harmony.
    • Color instruments adjust the mood, the feel, or the timbre of the sound produced by the band. 
    • Color instruments give the timbre of sound a gritty edge, or a warm backdrop
    • Color instruments bring a great deal of depth to a worship band's overall sound, but are rarely the primary source of that sound
  • A Keyboard player must be able to match the groove
    • Groove means that the rhythm of the music makes the audience want to tap their foot or clap their hands
    • Know what groove to play on certain styles.
  • A Keyboard player should possess a good knowledge of their instruments capabilities
    • They should know how to navigate the keyboard control panel, how to get different sound patches, and how to manipulate them for a desired sound
    • They should know how to correctly set up their gear. This includes the setting up keyboard stand, connecting the foot pedal, and connecting the keyboard to a direct box.
    • They should know how to change their volume, and where the power switch is
  • A Keyboard player should have a basic preffered set of common sounds, and know how to access them quickly
    • Piano sounds - Bright Upright, Classical Concert, E Piano, Rhodes, etc.
    • Color sounds - Warm Pads, Hammond Organ, String Pads,  Pipe Organ, etc.
  • Good technique is essential for good time and endurance
    • Bad technique can wear a Keyboard player out and when he begins to get tired his time will begin to slow down
    • Technique can make a difference in one's time and groove. Bad technique can make something that is relatively easy to play become difficult.
    • Taking a lesson now and again can fix these problems and steer one in the right direction.
  • Good visual communication is key to a Keyboard Player's success
    • If the Keyboard player is not aware of his surroundings, he may miss a cut off or a great musical moment. This can be disastrous.
    • Don't bury your head or stare off into space, watch the Worship Leader for instruction and cues 
  • Play simple
    • Don't feel like you have to play every note, every beat of the song. There are many other musical voices in the band to be heard.
    • Remember the rhythmic value the keyboard brings to the band. Practice new arppegiated patterns as much as new chord shapes and scales.
    • Understand where your instrument fits in playing with the band. If there are acoustic guitars, or a rhythm electric, they might be in the same harmonic range. Jump up an octave, or use chord variations to be in a different harmonic range and therefore open up the overall band sound.
  • For Keyboard players who are having trouble playing with a band
    • Fight the desire to play the vocakist's melodies and harmonies verbatim. While this is a good rehearsal help, playing the melody live will clutter the sound considerably.
    • Make sure you are well equipped and provided with charts you can read - Lead sheets vs. Chord charts vs. number charts
    • Try to re-learn how you see the keyboard. See it as chord shapes and chord placement on the keys rather than following melody and notes on a page. This will take time, but the transition is necessary if you want to be able to play with a modern worship band.
    • Practice with your metronome or better yet drum machine set at the appropriate tempo and groove of the song.
    • Learn how to simplify what you are doing if it becomes hard to keep up with the band
    • When playing with the band, remember that the pianist is not the only instrument on the stage.
  • The Worship Leader has the final say
    • In some cases, the instrumentalists may have more musical experience than the person up front. Learn to be ok with that.
    • Musical perfection is secondary to giving God the Glory he deserves. Much of this comes from attitude and servitude.
    • While input is healthy, and constructive criticism is part of the band dynamic, keep egos in check and realize the weighty responsibility a Worship Leader carries in ushering a congregation into the throne-room of Grace.
  • Don't overplay - LESS IS MORE


  1. wow ..this helps our worship band..
    God Bless us all

  2. wow..this blog helps. Thank you so much .GOd bless you

  3. Thank you so much! Godspeed! :)

  4. Awesome post Milo! Absolutely agree with everything you wrote, especially the bit about worship leader having the final say!

  5. Definitely agree on the simplifying! In many ways it's easier to be in a band and not have to play all the notes.