Introduction to Worship Keyboards – Understanding Contemporary Rhythms

Introduction to Worship Keyboards – Understanding Contemporary Rhythms

Understanding contemporary rhythms

Last time we looked at keyboard chords and their voicings. In this post we consider contemporary rhythms. Its a timely post and partly in response to an Ask the Expert question we had recently about mastering syncopated rhythms.

Once you can use different chords and inversions properly it’s time to tackle the Achilles heel of most keyboard players—rhythm. While guitarists naturally add rhythm to a piece of music it’s much harder work for a keyboardist. It’s often easy to play very ‘straight’ rhythms (like crotchets on each beat of the bar) which can be effective but are not enough in contemporary music. The kind of music we listen too and sing in church is quite syncopated. This means that the notes we play and sing often come in between the beats of the bar. Although most people quite naturally sing this way it can often be hard to play syncopated rhythms.

There is one rhythm which dominates much contemporary worship music. If we are to be effective keyboard players we must get to grips with it and use it well. Here it is:

The rhythm we need to play is written on the ‘G’ at the top whilst the semiquavers underneath can help us to work out how it is constructed. You can work out any complicated written rhythm by finding the longest note that will subdivide into the whole rhythm (in this case a semiquaver) and laying that underneath the original rhythm. Once you’ve done that add accents wherever you should play a note and call that number one each time. Here you get the rhythm 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2.

A good variation on this rhythm is to double the notes in length and forget the minim at the end of the bar:

This rhythm is also used widely in contemporary music. Try to play songs you know using both of these rhythms. You may need to slow things down to get them exactly right before speeding up again. Do try to be very precise about playing this kind of rhythm as it can make a real difference in driving a song forward.

We’ve written plenty of articles before in the newsletter about playing keyboards in worship. This is the start of a new mini series for people that have played keyboard using the traditional music score but want to move into more contemporary chords-based playing. To help you on your way, we’re making available online three lessons from the start of our Intermediate Worship Keyboards DVDs which explain the concept of chords-based playing and then go onto demonstrate it using the song How Great is Our God.

Click through to buy and download the lessons

Once you have been through these three lessons more proficient players can progress to the rest of the Intermediate course. If you are less experienced and would like to consolidate your new learning with relatively simple songs go to the Beginners course (volumes 3 and 4 would be ideal) or our online video Keyboard Song Learner lessons. The first part of our new newsletter series will look at which chords can be expected to show up in a given key (this information will be useful for guitarists as well), how to construct those chords and how to play them in different positions (known as voicings or inversions).

Other posts you might like

Introduction to worship keyboards part 1 (chords and their voicings)

Free video clip – Working with two keyboards in a worship band

Free video clip – Learn to play Lord Reign in Me on keyboard

Free video lesson – 10 things to do with chords on a keyboard

Where keyboards are most suited to leading

Leading worship from keys

Using string sounds on keyboards

How to form and use melodic fills

Understanding contemporary rhythms

Keyboard effects – soft pads and string sounds

The failsafe method of working out which chords fit in a key

The Musicademy “Cut Out and Keep” guide to how chords work
The “Cut Out And Keep” guide to chords in a key
The Musicans’ “Cut Out and Keep” guide to transposing
Playing by ear and understanding chords in worship – great for people wanting to develop a better understanding of music theory (and play in keys with the scary black notes!)