Contemporary Christian Music or commonly called “CCM” is a growing genre of music that has swept this generation with inspiration. Some might say that this style of music is not effective. Others might say, “it is too simple…” and “this type of music is boring…” I could agree to only a degree with some of those antics. CCM is difficult because it needs to be approached with a different mentality; vocally and musically. CCM and Traditional Gospel music have many things in common just like any music that is well written. CCM has a few ideas that need to be applied when executing. When keeping these in mind CCM will become more enjoyable and you will find yourself using both CCM type songs in addition to Gospel.
CCM says that layers of simple pieces make a great sound. Every instrument has a piece of the frequency spectrum, or register, and all of these pieces are accounted for. If you have a team where you each musician and singer were to fit in there spot on the register then “The Sound” will be achieved. “The Sound” as in the full sound that you might hear on albums created by Bethel Live, Elevation Worship, and Hillsong (and which ever extension you would like to place for Hillsong… ha!). I would encourage to whoever is reading this to buy a song that you like and listen to it with a good pair of headphones then listen to each piece on Multitracks.com or Loopcommunity.com.
The fact is CCM is easy. It is not hard to play a “G” chord on the guitar or a “C” chord on the piano. When you see a chord chart and all you see is “6 – 4 – 1 – 5” (Nashville Number System) and you struggle to make it sound different then what you are used to, remember this! It is not as hard as you think. The ability is already in reach, it is the understanding of where your place is on the register. This understanding is the key to playing CCM type music. In this article I will highlight some of the hurdles piano players may face in this realm.
I am reminded of the song “Ever Be” by Bethel Live when thinking of a current CCM type song. All of the frequency spectrum has been answered in this song. Instead of one certain individual taking the load of playing the whole song on there own, they would play their piece of the puzzle.
As for piano, it doesn’t necessarily mean to play octaves with your left hand or to even play seven-note chords. Sometimes it only means playing a melody line while the acoustic guitar takes over the low-mids or mid-range register.
Let me ask you this question. What is wrong with having a bowl of cereal with too much milk? (Can you ever have too much milk?) What about having a cup of coffee and adding too much sugar? Or adding too much black pepper to your breakfast? I am sorry that all my examples came out of the depths of my humanity but everyone eats. Too much of anything can be harmful and even determinately in certain instances. Sonically all the frequencies are not answered when every instrument is playing in the same register. This cannot be left unanswered or unattended. As a Worship Pastor or a Music Director it is important to trust your team! Stepping back as a piano player and letting someone else on the team lead the song will only build necessary items for your music team. This will promote trust, transparency, a family environment, and reliability. These invaluable attributes can simply be attained by stepping back as a leader and letting someone else lead. I view this as a type of discipleship and I see this as growing the church.
It is important to try and develop musicians in your worship department. To encourage, to find drivers, to motivate, to magnify smalls wins and minimize big failures. These are all important but two things that are important and that should be the banner of Worship Pastors and Music Directors alike; it takes time and the focus is on the individual and not the music! There I said it. It is about developing disciples of Jesus Christ through the medium of music.
Let me highlight this topic. Playing CCM type music requires a mental shift. The technical aspects and intricacies of Gospel music are minimized to dynamics and the shift of that from the beginning to the end of each song. It is difficult because of the way you must approach it. But if it was easy, everybody would be doing it. There is an element that is difficult. It takes understanding that the three notes that you play as a piano player is the best three notes you play. Add your three notes to the three notes the guitar player is playing, on top of the chord the acoustic guitar is playing. Don’t forget the bass notes that are placing a note to every kick pattern the drummer can play. Add the rest of the drum set adding other percussive elements filling the frequencies. This takes excellences. It takes high communication between your worship band and asking simply important questions. It is possible to achieve in your team!
Let us sit at a piano. When you sit down to learn a song, many things are communicated. Most of the time the rhythm of the song is established with the left hand. The bass notes that are being played with your left hand can define the song without your right hand. Once you add your right hand to the left, we hear the melody and it sounds as if the worship leader is singing the song without words. It is beautiful. It personally took me a long time to get to this place in my piano playing. Now lets start here!
Let’s start with taking as much low end out of your left hand! Try using one note or play a (1 – 3 ) with your left hand. A (1 – 5) could even be used higher up to complete the formation of a chord. Then your right hand; always keep the melody on top but don’t always play the melody in time. Playing less means simpler chords with more space in-between your chords. This will leave room for guitars, pads, and percussion fill these empty voids. Sometimes you will hear interludes with strong instrumental hook. This can sometime be played with the piano. Bring your right hand up an octave to play this interlude and leave your left behind. Just use your right hand! This may feel weird at first but remember, you have a bass player and your have guitar players that are chucking away. Trust that they can carry it and think like a guitar player doing a solo for eight bars. It is not just the sound of your piano that is being heard but a compilation of every instrument on the platform. Trust your sound man and trust your team!
CCM is easier to execute then other traditional music for many reason. Most songs contain up to four chords. These four songs can be found from Google and if you have a difficult time with these four chords you can find a tutorial on Youtube and someone can help you play these four chords in the most appropriate way for that song. The next step would be to memorize the song, not just your part but everyone’s part. Commit it to memory and practice with perfection and play with excellence. When sunday comes remember that it all for Jesus. Focus on Jesus, remember Jesus, communicate Jesus and let others see Jesus through what you play. In your communication with your team members and in the frustration in the process. Let them see Jesus!
May God bless you in all that you do,