Archive for the ‘Technique’ Category

Glissando Tips

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

One of my church pianist readers recently requested that I provide some helpful tips on how to play glissandos.

One of the trickiest technical moves in my How Great Thou Art  piano arrangement is the glissando found on page four.   (Shown below)


Glissando Tips

1.  Notice the  three tenuto (line marks) under the left hand in measure 29.  These marks are pointing out the melody for the words “…then sings my…”.  Emphasize the melody and keep the glissando volume in the background (little softer than left hand).

2. The right hand begins the glissando with the index finger immediately after the left hand plays the G octave with the first tenuto (line) mark.  (It happens to be the same G as the left thumb just finished playing in the G octave).

3. Start the glissando with your right hand index finger…flipping the right hand over after the index finger starts.  The index finger and 3rd finger will glide across the keys in an upside down, horizontal position.  Once the index finger begins…the third finger will carry the brunt of the notes as you glide upward.  The index finger will act more as a support and guide for the third finger.  Just remember….the third finger is longer so it naturally has better contact of the keys.

4.  Word of caution to church pianists:  Glide across keys in a lightweight; relaxed fashion to avoid sore fingers 🙂

Visual Tips for the Glissando in How Great Thou Art


Church Pianist Tip: Rock of Ages with “Weighty Chords”

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Recently, I’ve been working on an arrangement of “Rock of Ages”.  The introduction contains what I call “weighty chords”…chords with three or more notes.  Thus, the following tip…

Scenario: A pianist sees a chord with three or more notes…(brain computes)…HEAVY touch!  Your brain thinks….I can’t possibly mash all those notes down at once without attacking them 😉   Word of caution:  Relax and apply gentle even pressure as though you’re lightly kneading dough… to avoid a “chunky” or “weighted” sound…especially when the full chords occur on the weak beats.

For example, in 4/4 time, the 1st and 3rd beats are naturally accented. Therefore the 2nd and 4th beats are weaker. In 3/4 time…only the first beat of each measure receives the accent. Why? To produce a more shapely rhythm and to avoid a mechanical/laboured sound.

The following excerpt is from an arrangement that will be included in a “Funeral Collection” which I hope to finish within the next several months. Notice the full chords in the left hand. I will give a brief demonstration of a suggested way to interpret these chords…fighting against the natural tendency of “heavy hand” treatment.

Click here for: video clip of following example


Best and Worst Ways of Practicing

Saturday, March 5th, 2011


Good practicing habits are necesscary for all pianists…if they want to progress and sound prepared.

I stumbled across an excellent article on the best and worst ways to practice located on the website entitled Piano Perspectives.

Click here to read Best and Worst Ways of Practicing.  Decide which list you belong to.  🙂

The Church Pianist: Runs in Hymns (example three)

Thursday, September 9th, 2010


*(You may want to print the “Runs in Hymns example three” page below to have on hand as you read the following information)

I enjoy using what I call “cluster runs” in hymnplaying. It’s just a cluster of notes (close together) played in a rapid broken-chord pattern. I just repeat the same four notes up the piano.  Runs can be added almost anywhere as long as they fit the flow of the hymn.  The run needs to sound like it belongs in the arrangement…not just thrown in as an afterthought.

The following example illustrates  the use of the “cluster run” in the hymn “Throw Out the Lifeline”.  The cluster run begins on the word “someone”.  Just use your right thumb to start each set of four notes.  For each group of 4 notes…I use the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th finger.

Emphasize (stress) the first note of each 4 notes to create a more shapely tone…making the run blend into the piece. 

Runs- in- Hymns- example -three

Audio of Runs in Hymns (example three)

One of my latest arrangements uses this cluster run in most of the chorus of The Light of the World is Jesus”.  The sample audio on this link contains the chorus with the cluster runs.

The Church Pianist: Adding Runs to Hymns (example #2 explanation)

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Example #2 for Adding Runs in Hymns 

Explanation of example #2 in adding runs to hymns:

(Click on image for a clearer view)

This run created a nice fill-in where normally a dotted half note occured on the word: “Thee”.  In the original version, the G chord lasted for the entire last measure of the verse for the words: “Thee….Draw me”  I added a D (7) chord on the 3rd beat of that measure for chord variety.

 Audio Sample of Example #2

*Upcoming article: Longer example with run in middle of a sentence with user friendly fingering!  I call them cluster runs 🙂


The Church Pianist: Adding Runs to Hymns (Example #1)

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

I enjoy adding runs to hymns.  A lot of pianists have asked me the following questions about runs over the years:

1. Where can I add a run?

2. What notes do I use?

3. Do I start the run on the word or after the word?

4. How do I make the run sound like it fits?

5. What fingering do I use?

6. Do I use one or two hands for this run?

Excellent questions!  I will attempt to answer these questions as I go through this series of articles on adding runs to hymns. 

Runs consist of either arpeggios (broken chords)  or scales.  Ew….got to know your theory!   (Another lesson)  🙂

1. Arpeggios look like this… (notes on treble staff below) 


*Special note: Did you notice this particular arpeggio is the second inversion of a C chord with a passing tone sprinkled in?  Hmm…I feel more theory lessons coming. That’s ok… a little  at a time, right?!

*I’ll show an example of a scale used as a run in upcoming articles.

Some pianists find “adding their own runs” to hymns or playing runs in hymn arrangements to be rather difficult.  Let me give you a helpful suggestion…isolate the run…turn it into a technical exercise and learn it well. 

When playing runs or anything else for that matter, it is extremely important to use correct fingering.  Many church pianists never had the proper training in this area…making it difficult for them to play in a smooth style. It’s ok..not your fault. I’ll provide  fingering suggestions on today’s example of a run…to help you produce a flowing style. This first example will use a right hand arpeggio in an octave format (spread).

Editor notes for today’s example:

The example contains the final phrase of Trust and Obey, written in congregational style.

The run occurs on the second syllable of the word “Je-sus”  

 Notice the ritarando marking  (rit.) starting ahead of the run… so the run won’t sound rushed as though it was just carelessly thrown in. I’ll provide an audio link for this example.

The measure containing the run has an extra beat to allow time for the run. (This isn’t always necessary)

 Click on the following…Runs in Hymns (Example #1)

Audio for Trust and Obey Run

Link: Adding runs to hymns Example Two

The Church Pianist: Scales in Hymns (Part Four)

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

To start with…I will show you a page of hymn arrangement samples containing scales.  Scales are used to embellish a melody or simply as a fill-in.  In the following examples…both functions are utlizied.

Editor notes for Scale Variations in Hymns

Count Your Blessings  (the opening scale is added as extra filler to  an introduction)

Jesus Loves Me (the scale creates a nice dress-up for the melody)

Let the Lower Lights Be Burning (this scale creates a nice filler on the syllable “more” and blends into the next two words “But to”)

Editor Notes for final page “Practical Scale Exercises”

When trying to master technical passages in hymn arrangements…I will isolate the passage and master it.  Sometimes I create or embellish upon the passage making it more fun to practice.  Hope the following scale exercises will stimulate other church pianist’s creativity.

Practical Scale Exercises


The Church Pianist: Scales in Hymns…Part Three

Friday, April 16th, 2010



Scales add life to hymns! 

I’ll show you one way to insert a scale in the first measure of a hymn or in some cases…adding an extra measure to make the scale fit at the beginning.

Editor notes for today’s… Scale Examples in Hymns

1. The  scale in each example  equals two counts.

2. This type of scale entry works well when the first note of the song begins on the 5th note of the present key.

     It is Well is in the key of C and the first note is “G” which is the 5th note of the C scale

3. Notice…the scale in each example begins one octave (8 notes) lower than the first note of the song.

4. When the first word of the song occurs in an incomplete measure…(as in “It is Well” and “He Hideth My Soul”)…the first word will be understood during the scale.  Reminds me of English…when “you” is understood in the sentence even though it may not be written 🙂


Try this scale idea in other hymns of similar design!


Scales in Hymns (Part Three)… Upcoming Article

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

I plan to post part three of scales in hymns by the end of this week.

Some church pianists may not understand where to insert a scale in a hymn.

Scales can be placed in several different places in a hymn.  The upcoming article will show the church pianist how to add a scale to the very first measure of a hymn!

Looking forward to sharing the examples with you!

The Church Pianist: Importance of Scales (part one)

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

What could possibly be so important about learning to play scales?!

Part One: Benefits to learning scales



*Key recognition

(for example…if you’ve been practicing the D major scale…you will remember this scale has two sharps. When you look in a hymnal and see a hymn with two sharps at the beginning… you’ll know it’s probably D major.  (could be B minor but we won’t go there right now.) The majority of the will be D major.

*Structured fingering

*Prepares the hands for complete and partial scale passages in hymn arrangements.


Scales are more meaningful when played within a hymn arrangement.

Scales add life to a piece! Sometimes just a partial scale is used depending on what sounds best.

Learning my scales in the beginning stages of piano prepared me for different arrangements I have played through the years with technical passages. 

 In part two of the importance of scales…I will show examples of hymn arrangements containing scales and share ideas of how and where to apply scales in your own improvising.

Part three of the importance of scales will share various ways to play scales preparing the church pianist for real-life application.


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