Mark J Martin

Mark J Martin

Thoughts on Accompanying Singers with Energy

I heard it said recently that a soloist is only as good as his or her pianist.

While that may be a bit overstated, there’s much truth in it.  Anyone who has sung much in public knows the difference it makes when you have a strong, confident pianist supporting you versus when the pianist is not playing with confidence.

And if that’s true for a soloist, it’s also true for congregational singing, choirs, small groups.

If you play the piano in church, you need to know how to play with energy.

Here are some thoughts on playing with energy:

  1. Energy is not always related to speed.  Our tendency is to equate speed with energy.  The thought is that if you up the tempo, there will be more energy.  Yet that is not always the case.  That’s like thinking we are accomplishing more in life just because we are moving faster.
  2. There are musical techniques besides speed that bring energy.  More movement in the accompaniment brings energy.  (think sixteenths vs. eighth note runs) Dynamic changes bring energy. Expressiveness in your touch brings energy.  (think phrasing the sections as a whole with rise and fall, not just playing as individual notes)  More complex chords bring energy.
  3. Always choose confidence over playing all the notes.  With that being said above, it would still be better for your singer if you play the notes you can play well, with expression and strength, than to try to hit all the notes and fumble through it.  If you are struggling to keep up, simplify sixteenths to eighth notes if they are too fast for you to keep up.  If the chords alternate between high octaves and low octaves, and you’re having a hard time going back and forth between the two, keep them all in the same octave.

Church music is not about performance.  It’s not about showing off whether you can play the entire piece flawlessly. It’s about ministering the truth to the hearts of God’s people.  Time constraints make it difficult to prepare every note on the page.

Confident simplicity trumps sloppy complexity every time.

Those are just a few thoughts.  Add any other ideas in the comments at the bottom of this post.

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Planning Hymns a Month at a Time

Limited time in music ministry forces you to find ways to save time in service planning.

One way to do that is plan congregational hymns a month at a time.

Here are a few benefits:

  1. Planning mode. Only entering that planning zone for hymns once a month.
  2. Seeing the big picture of the balance in music.  At-a-glance, you can see if you are singing only gospel songs or just hymn style. You can see if there are too many new songs that will overwhelm the church or only older songs.
  3. Quicker prep each week.  It takes time to think through a service.  I find if I do that all at once, I save time coming in and out of that zone each week.
  4. Aids in teaching songs.  When I plan the whole month, I can incorporate teaching a song, repeating it several times.
  5. Scramble less. As with anything, more forethought cuts down on last minute scrambling.

Even if you are full time and have more time available to plan your services or whether you are part time or unpaid volunteer, it’s worth considering planning your hymns for the entire month in one sitting.

How often do you plan services?

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Choosing Praise in Advance

Consider how many times David said in the Psalms, “I will praise.”

He chose ahead of time that he would praise God. No matter what!

Psalm 34:1 I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

Psalm 54:6 I will freely sacrifice unto thee: I will praise thy name, O LORD; for it is good.

Psalm 56:4 In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me. … 10 In God will I praise his word: in the LORD will I praise his word.

Psalm 57:7 My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. … 9 I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations.

Psalm 61:8 So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows.

Psalm 63:3 Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. … 5 My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips:

Psalm 104:33 I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.

Praise is an action best performed when the decision has been made in advance to praise God no matter what.

Have you decided that you are going to praise God?  If you did, how would that impact your music ministry?

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Christmas CD – Tidings of Comfort and Joy, by Julie Jones Potter

I have some friends who recently went through a deep trial as their son underwent treatment for stage 3 high-risk neuroblastoma.  By God’s grace, Braden overcame the cancer, yet there has resulted from the treatments some hearing loss,  specifically in the higher registers.  Braden’s aunt, Julie Jones Potter, recorded a Christmas CD entitled Tidings of Comfort and Joy to help raise funds for the necessary hearing aids Braden will get.

The CD is beautifully done, and you will enjoy playing it during the holiday season (I know that no one who reads this ever plays Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Ha! However, it’s never to early to buy a Christmas CD.)

For your convenience, I have posted it here on my site.  Many have already purchased a CD directly from Julie, and thank you to those who have.  If you haven’t, you may do so at the bottom of this post.

All the proceeds through December will go to Braden.

Here’s what Julie posted to facebook:

Dan and I are excited to share with you my new piano Christmas CD entitled Tidings of Comfort and Joy” lovingly dedicated to the Roberts family. All proceeds this fall will be going to the hearing aid/medical fund of my nephew Braden Roberts. He has moderate to severe hearing loss in high frequency tones due to the chemotherapy he received during cancer treatments. CD’s are $15 each and includes shipping/handling. Local friends, we would be happy to deliver. Merry Christmas!

Simply order below, and it will ship to you.  All the proceeds will go toward Braden’s hearing aid / medical fund.

Help me be a help to this family.  Thanks in advance.

 

This is NOT  a digital download.  It is a physical copy of the CD.  CD will ship from Julie Potter. Shipping included.

Audio Sample

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New Arrangement for Congregational Singing

It’s one of my favorite songs.  Maybe one of yours too. “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

I arranged it for piano & strings for our Easter service this year.  I’m grateful for how it turned out.

You can jump over to the store to download it for free.  Whether you just have one violin or a full strings section, I think the strings parts will benefit your singing.

I pray that God will use it for His glory in your church.

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Suggestions for Playing Mixed Meter

Note: There is a link to a demo of Wednesday’s piano arrangement near the bottom of this post.

I posted an arrangement Wednesday with some mixed meter, and I wanted to offer a few thoughts about mixed meter and how to play it.

[This post is a bit technical.  If you don’t want the nitty gritty, skip to “Ways to Simplify” at the bottom.]

But first, what is mixed meter?

What is Mixed Meter?

Mixed Meter is simply changing back and forth between different time signatures.

For instance, it could be changing from 6/8 to 3/4,  or 3/8 to 5/8, or any combination of time signatures.

So, why use it a hymn arrangement.

Sense of Excitement, Movement

I was looking for a way to communicate the energy and excitement which accompanies the fact that Christ rose again.  Christ’s resurrection is pivotal to our faith and it should put in us an excitement and hope that fuels our faith.

But quite often, I think we take away rhythmic features of a song that communicate power for the sake of being conservative.  When we do, we rob the song of the potential of powerfully impacting emotion – emotion that can encourage God’s people.

Mixed Meter is often used to create a feeling of energy.  This energy can communicate a feeling of celebration (which is why I used it here) or urgency,

For urgency, think Mission Impossible theme song. It is in 5/4, but within each measure there is a 3/4 + 2/4 division; which can be further broken down to 3/8 + 3/8 + 2/8 + 2/8 feel.

mission impossible

(This post is not intended to be a full treatment of the subject of appropriateness. I’ll simply say that, as with anything, these elements can be abused. But it is my belief that we shouldn’t rid church music of certain elements completely. How much is appropriate for a church should be decided by church leadership.  Maybe that should be another post sometime. And I wouldn’t want a Mission Impossible feel in a service, just sayin’. )

But along with the energy it creates, it can be particularly challenging to play.

So, how do you learn to play a piece with mixed meter?

Break it down to the Constant

Music can almost always be boiled down to a basic feel of either 2 or 3.

When dealing with mixed meters, the best thing to do is boil the rhythm down to its most basic constant.

By that I mean determine what stays the same, even when the time signatures are changing.

In this piece, the eighth note is the constant.

When playing mixed meter, the best thing to do is to find out what the eighth note is doing.

The 6/8 time signature has 6 eighth notes divided into two sets of three.  The 3/4 time signature has 6 eighth notes, divided into three sets of two.

 

The 6/8 has this feel:  1-2-3 1-2-3, the ones being the beat of the measure.

mixed meter68

The 3/4 has feel a 1-2-3 feel, the quarter note being the beat.  The beat can be divided into eighth notes: 1-2 1-2 1-2.

mixed meter34

So, any time, if you are having trouble, you can think of the eighth note tick.

When playing mixed meter, the best thing to do is to find out what the eighth note is doing. Click To Tweet

Dominant Meter of the Section

In Christ the Lord is Risen Today, I didn’t change time signatures quickly, but chose the time signature of a section based on what the dominant rhythm was in that section.  Then, if there is a different division in that section, it is in contrast to the dominant feel.

Instead of changing meter every few bars (measures), I chose to divide it by phrase and name it by the dominant time signature.  So, you have the feel changing within those sections.

For instance, in the first section (the intro, bars 1-8), the rhythm alternates between groupings of 3 and groupings of 2.  The dominant feel is that of 1-2-3  4-5-6, with the 1-2  3-4  5-6 contrasting.

mixed meter68 contrast

But bars 9-16 have the 1-2-3 (quarter note) feel, with the dotted quarter rhythm contrasting the 3/4 feel.

mixed meter34contrast

If you keep in mind the eight note constant, and that the notation is simply there to show you where to place the emphasis, you’ll get it right.

R.H/ L.H. Two Against Three

This merits a post of its own, but there are some sections with a 2 feel in the R.H. and a 3 feel in the left hand. (See ways to simplify below).

If all this makes your head spin, here are a few ways to simplify.

Ways to Simplify

  1. Use the right hand rhythm in both hands. If you find it challenging to have the 3 against 2 feel, then you can choose one or the other and use it in both hands.  It would make sense to use whichever rhythm the melody line uses.
  2. Straighten out the left hand.  In Christ the Lord is Risen Today, in the last verse, soften or straighten out the L.H. octaves.
  3. Listen to a recording. If you want to tackle the rhythm, but are having trouble doing so from a written piece of sheet music, listen to a recording to hear how it feels. I posted a demo with the music to help with that.

Let me know any thoughts here.

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God Orchestrates Best

One of the great privileges of planning and leading worship in a church is to get a front row seat to how God is the great orchestrator of church life, specifically in using music to build up His church. Yesterday was another day that God put together two great services.
 
Many in my state were disappointed with the results of their primary on Saturday. (This is not a political post.) I did not intentionally place the choir song yesterday because I was thinking of Saturdays event ahead of time. Yet God knew (regardless of the results) that we needed to hear these words yesterday:
 
“Every power on earth and in heaven is a shadow in his light.
No authority, law, or government challenges his sovereign might.
His reign and rule have no boundary. All that is his hands have wrought.
Nothing ever can, nothing ever will overcome the Lord our God.”

God is in control, and He is using events to accomplish His purposes. 

 Two weeks ago, I planned for the choir to sing an opener, but when we tried it in warmups, it wasn’t quite ready.  We post-poned it a week.  That following week, a lady attended our services who came up to me after the service.  Her mother was dying, and the song we had sung was one of her favorites.  She asked if she could have a copy of the music, thinking she may be able to use it in her mother’s funeral.

[Update: The song was Then Sings My Soul by Mary McDonald, a choral setting of “How Great Thou Art.”]

On a national level, rest in and pray to the God who is really in charge.  Trust in Him.

In the church music arena, plan well, and work hard, all while yielding to and trusting in the God who uses your plans – and changes to your plans – to build up His church.

Plan well, and work hard, all while yielding to and trusting in the God who uses your plans - and changes to your plans - to build up His church. #worship Click To Tweet

 Have you experienced similar divine fingerprints in your church’s music?  I would love to hear your story!  Comment here.

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Worshiping Without Words

Just wanted to plant a little thought in your mind for this Sunday, for you pianists.

The piano is an awesome instrument from which to worship God without words.  

Ok, so really you are enhancing words – words that are familiar or projected on a screen.

The range of emotional expression at the piano gives it the ability to communicate powerfully.

And, especially if your congregation is familiar with the song you are playing, you have the opportunity to breathe fresh meaning into words that have been sung sometimes to the point over-familiarity.

The right expression at a point of rich meaning. A pause to emphasize a powerful phrase. A different chord that communicates that word (when playing alone).

But you get to do it without saying a word.

Consider how you can enhance the understanding of the words as you play this Sunday.

Consider how you can enhance the understanding of the words as you play this Sunday. Click To Tweet

Would love to hear your thoughts.  Comment here.

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3 Simple Steps You Can Take to Deepen Next Sunday’s Service

It’s clear in scripture that the purpose of music in the church is to 1) worship God (Psalm 150:3-4) and 2) teach God’s people (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).

But when the worship pastor uses the flip-open-the-hymnal-and-point method (or the search-and-click method), just randomly picks songs, he is not adequately accomplishing those goals.

Been there. Done that.

Ok, so most worship pastors don’t just flip open a hymnal and point.  But we all could give more attention to the impact of a service as a whole.

You have probably been in a service where not much attention was given to the whole.  You probably have led one. And in those services, I’m sure the music impacted you.  The songs still have impact when not put together as a cohesive whole.

But, when we have not intentionally looked at the whole, we may have missed an opportunity.

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