Simply put – we need more piano players

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Paul J. Scharf's picture

In many churches, the emphasis on piano was itself an accommodation to the fact that very few people are learning to play the organ anymore... If the piano is going the same direction, that is not a good sign.

Anecdotally, it appears to me that the number of kids learning to play instruments is at an all-time high.

That leads me to believe there are only a few possibilities...

1) Those with talent and/or training may be either untrained or disinterested in church music;

2) Those with talent and/or training are unwilling to use their talents in church; or

3) Those studying music are learning to play instruments other than those primarily needed for/associated with church music.

Perhaps a little more strategic thinking is needed in this area.

(FYI - My mom was a church organist for roughly 62 years, beginning at age 12.)

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

christian cerna's picture

As someone who is somewhat of a musician, and who has tried playing different instruments, I know that it is a lot easier to fake being good on the guitar, than to fake being good on the piano. 

Many young people who become musicians, do so with dreams of starting their own rock band and becoming famous. They choose to learn an instrument that looks cool and will be fun to play. 

TylerR's picture


At my church in Sicily, we didn't have a piano player, so the Pastor bought piano accompaniments to the hymnal and the sound guy just played the track when the Pastor began the singing. Easy solution!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

pvawter's picture

I am nothing more than an adequate guitar player, but I can led the congregation in singing praise and worship or hymns as needed. I think this article fails to consider that churches may need to be more creative today in their musical choices and instrumentation. Maybe there are too few pianists, but there could be a couple of decent guitar players who could accompany the congregation if given the chance, or some other instruments could be used.

Greg Linscott's picture

Our daughters have taken piano, though none of them are at the proficiency level to accompany the congregation. We do have my two oldest playing their band/orchestra instruments (along with others in the church) along with our church pianist. That gets us a violin, flute, and clarinet or guitar on most Sundays, along with the piano. One church lady is trying to resurrect her cello skills to join them, and there are others coming along. We have the orchestration books that match up with our hymnal, and most of the time we can make it work with the songs we sing not in our hymnal.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Ron Bean's picture

If you're looking for an instrument to play the melody so that the congregation can follow, my musician wife suggests piano (that instrument from the bars, honky tonks and brothels), organ (from apostate mainline churches), or the violin (the instrument that is pitched most like the human voice).

The first two parenthetical comments are attempts at humor. The last is based on her personal instrument. our church has occasionally had outdoor services and the violin was great.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

ChristyM's picture

Just don't cut it - there is no way to have nuances, repeating a refrain or if singing a chorus, to repeat - or cut out the repeat.  There are times the recorded background is useful but most of the time should not be first choice.  I would definitely say that anecdotally while there may be more students participating in school instrumental programs, they are not learning piano in the primary grades before moving on to other instruments.  Which in turn means the band/orchestra/choir teachers spend an extraordinary amount of time teaching how to read music.  It ends up being circular.  There seems to be no need for keyboard players in church, so kids aren't encouraged to take lessons, creating a shortage of keyboard players.  One glimmer of hope is the popularity of piano classes in public schools.  I hope more can follow suit.

GregH's picture

I think the original article is anecdotal in evidence and I have nothing but anecdotal evidence to go on either (have never seen a survey on this). But in general, my sense is that there are more pianists out there than ever, that many children take it very seriously and that in general, they are more advanced than ever. The young prodigies are certainly far more advanced than the prodigies I was around growing up. They have access to far better information and they take advantage of it.

They do suffer from the problem that traditional music education is focused on classical music replication rather than teaching skills that are useful in church music. Many pianists even with advanced degrees in music performance struggle in a church setting because of how they were taught. However, that has been an ongoing problem for the last century. If anything, I suspect it is probably getting a bit better.


christian cerna's picture

Very true. I have known many pianists who can lay beautifully when they have sheet music in front of them. But take away the sheet music, and they can't play a single note. They learned how to read music, but they never learned how to improvise, how to play by ear.