Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Nervous Pianist With Modest Skills

Playing the piano at church

I've been playing the piano on Wednesday nights at church for the last three or four months. We usually have just a small group, so it doesn't make me very nervous. I choose the songs myself, or at least have veto power over what's been chosen, so I don't have to play anything that worries me.

I am not a very good pianist, so all of the above is important to me!

Here are some of my worst weaknesses:

  • I don't practice enough, and I never do any finger exercises.
  • I am particularly bad at reading time markings. I struggle terribly with unfamiliar music if it has lots of dotted 8th notes, etc.
  • I have favorite fingers. I like to hit the keys with them instead of using all my fingers equally. In other words, I have bad fingering habits.
  • I keep my eyes glued to the music while playing and never look at my hands. This was drilled into me by my piano teachers so thoroughly that it has become an instinct. When there's a tricky place in the music, I mark it to remind myself to check whether my fingers are going to land on the right keys. (How weird is that?!)
  • I can get very nervous.

Still, over the years that I've been playing Lutheran hymns, my skills have improved slightly. I'm better at sight-reading the bass clef notes, and I've become much more comfortable in some keys I'd never played much before.

In the 16 years we've attended our church, I've played the piano for Sunday School for about half that time. I've probably played for church a couple of dozen times, when Pastor couldn't find anyone else to fill in for the regular organist.

Playing for church is more nerve-wracking than playing for Sunday School. Our church service includes a liturgy that is mostly sung, and we also sing 3 or 4 songs that I don't get to choose. I make terrible mistakes sometimes, but I just play on. You can't stop and correct yourself when folks are singing along with you.

Several other ladies in our church have taken piano lessons and own a piano, but they all try to keep it a secret. It's taken me years to find out. I don't know if they are out of practice, or if they are just nervous about playing in front of a group.

I understand both of those problems very well, but I do think they should "let their light shine." I'm sure that with minimal practice they could play as well as I do or better. Really, I am more than willing to share the church piano!

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RunAwayImagination said...

Keep on playing!

I'm a terrible sight reader but a great improviser. On the rare occasion when I have to play something from sheet music, I deconstruct it into chords, or better yet, make a Nashville Number Chart out of it. (See for info on the Nashville Number System.)

Playing from a chord chart or a Number Chart is like giving a speech from an outline as opposed to reading it word-for-word from a script.

I hope this makes sense.

Genevieve said...

The Nashville Number System sounds very interesting. I do understand what you mean about an outline of the music. I often write my own shorthand for various chords above the actual notes. (I know what I mean.)

In desperate cases, I photocopy the music and use white-out on notes that are confusing me. Then I write in something I like better!

Frank Chiapperino said...

I just wanted to wish you well in your efforts to serve in your local church. God often used the least likely people to accomplish great things. Through those people he reavealed Himself and inspired others.

We have a saying around our church. Excellence honors God and inspires people. Strive for that as you serve your church.

Keep up the great work and stay tough, tender and teachable.

Thanks for your service!

Genevieve said...

Thanks for the encouraging words, Frank. They are appreciated. :)

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