Modern Approach to Worship Keys

A huge part of the modern worship sound is amazing sounding keyboards and synthesizers. But it’s not just the sounds of the keys that matter. It’s also how our keyboardists approach what they’re playing. In this podcast episode, I talk with David Pfaltzgraff of Sunday Sounds about how our keyboardists should approach their playing in a modern worship, live band context. We discuss mindset, hand placement, general technique, frequency awareness, active listening, helping classically trained pianists adapt, and more. After you listen to this, DEFINITELY send it on to the keyboard players of your team. We made it especially for them…. and for you too. 🙂

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Transcript

Alex |

Welcome to the Worship Ministry Training Podcast, a monthly podcast for worship leaders who are serious about growing in their craft and calling. My name is Alex, fellow worship leader, super stoked you’re here. And if you’re a new listener, I’m going to encourage you to hit that subscribe button because every single month I’m going to give you helpful practical guidance that you can immediately element into your ministry. Hit that subscribe button and then go back through the past nine years of episodes and binge listen your way to a healthier ministry. If you’re someone who is really serious about growing as a worship leader, I’m going to point you to the Worship Ministry Training Academy. What is the Academy? It’s an online training platform that will give you everything you need to build a thriving worship ministry. You’ll get ten indepth courses on topics like set building, team building, musical excellence, vocal techniques, and more. You’ll get live monthly training workshops on topics that are relevant to you. You’ll get exclusive expert interviews with some of the best worship leaders in the world. You’ll get done for you ministry admin systems and audition process, onboarding documents, team training materials, and even team discipleship materials.

 

Alex |

We will take care of you so you can focus on leading your team.

 

Alex |

If that sounds like something that would be of help to you, you can try the Worship Ministry Training Academy for just one dollars by going to worshipministrytraining.com. Sign up today for your $1 trial and I hope to see you inside of the academy. All right, let’s get into today’s episode.

 

Alex |

Hello everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Worship Ministry Training Podcast, and I am thrilled to be here with my friend from across the world, mr. David Faultscraft. David, how are you?

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Good. Alex, how are you?

 

Alex |

So David is the founder I’m good. I should probably answer that first. David is the founder and lead sound designer at Sunday Sounds, which is a keyboard software that is amazing and it’s specifically designed for local churches and for local church worship leaders. So all of you who are listening to this or watching this should go to Sunday Sounds.com and grab it. And I will also put a link in YouTube and the podcast show notes. But David, dude, good to have you. David falsegraff your last name. It looks harder than it is to say, so I have the problem of like, it looks hard and it’s hard to say, but yours is just hard to look at but easy to say. So welcome, bro.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Thanks for having me, man. I’m excited to have this conversation.

 

Alex |

Yeah, I’m excited too, because I actually got an email last night from a worship leader who said, hey, I just took over my worship ministry. We have a keyboard player who is classically trained and how she plays does not work with what we’re trying to do. And so I was like, okay, this couldn’t be better timing. To have this conversation with David because I think a lot of worship leaders struggle with how do they talk to their musicians, like, how do they give direction, especially worship leaders who maybe they play guitar and they sing, but they don’t play other instruments, or they don’t have any album production experience or arrangement experience. And then they’re asked to talk to the drummer or talk to the keyboard player or talk to the bass player, and they don’t know how. So you’re going to help us. And I think what’s going to end up happening is the worship leaders watching or listening to this are going to just take this link and send it to their keyword players and be like, whatever that guy David says, do that.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

We’ll see.

 

Alex |

Yeah. Okay. So, David, first of all, you are in Portugal, and that is a fun adventure that I don’t necessarily want to talk all about. But I mean, tell us, how do you say, My name is David in Portuguese?

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

You also David.

 

Alex |

You said David say it’s almost like Spanish yossoi. Right?

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Yeah. Very similar vocabulary, very different pronunciation. That makes it a big challenge.

 

Alex |

Yeah, I’m sure. Yeah. Actually, before we jumped on the call, I was googling how to say hello. And I tried it a few times and I was like, ah forget it. Because it was like, Good evening. It was like, how to say good evening? And it was like, I can’t remember it anymore. It’s like, boi bonoIT bonoIT buenoid. Yeah. So I was like anyway.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Yeah. So I live in Portugal with my wife Anna, and we have three kids. John seven, Wells is four and Lillian is two. We’ve been living over here just under half a year, and it’s been a big adventure and have been doing Sunday sounds from here, continuing to play keys and work on Sunday keys and do all that sort of stuff. So the biggest change is that these podcast interviews now happen after the kids go to bed instead of while they’re out of the house at school.

 

Alex |

Right. And we will not keep you up too late because it’s like 09:22 P.m. Over there right now.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Yeah, I’m doing good. I had a soda earlier atypical for me, I’m set caffeinated.

 

Alex |

Awesome. All right, so, David, let’s just like broad strokes. When you see a good keyboard player in a worship setting, like, what is it? What are the factors that you would say this is what a good worship keyboard player is? Like, what is that?

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

That’s a really good question. I think the main thing that defines an excellent worship keys player, in my opinion, is the way that they are relating to the rest of the band and how well they understand the context of what they’re doing, the band they’re playing in, musically, what’s happening in the songs that their band is covering. So I think that most of the time, what separates an average keyboard player or maybe even an excellent pianist from an excellent modern worship keys player, is that understanding and awareness of context to go a little deeper. So much of modern worship keys is focused on supporting or making space for or doubling up what one of the other members of your band is doing. So you might be expected to play pads that glue the rest of your band together without getting in the way of any of the other parts. You might be asked to play something that’s in the low ends to thicken up that big bridge by doubling the bass line. You might be asked to play a counter melody to what the electric guitarist is doing. You might be asked to play strings, you might be asked to play bells.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

You might be asked to play banjo. It’s a mini hats kind of job description. So I think when I see keys players that look a little bit frazzled or where the relationship between the keys player and the worship leader is maybe fraught or a little tense most of the time I think it’s because the context for what the role is supposed to be doing isn’t clearly defined. Or sometimes the keys player has an idea of what they would like to be doing and they’re not being given a platform to express themselves in that way. So I think context is really the key for the keys. Gosh, that was too cute.

 

Alex |

Perfect pun. Are you sure you’re Portuguese? Because that was some good English punning right there.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Oh, thank you.

 

Alex |

Yeah, that’s helpful to me. Just thinking about what is a good keyboard player. It’s someone who, one, has their sounds dialed and two, knows how to support and stay out of the way, like adding interest without cluttering up everything. Whether it’s the melody of the vocals or the low end of the bass, you kind of know your spot in the mix. So I would love to kind of here maybe on a technical technique side of things not moving into sound yet, we’ll just talk about where the hands should be. Sure. What are some techniques or general playing approaches with your hands and your placement or just how you think about your left hand versus your right hand. What are some of the techniques that they should be mastering or the mindsets that they should be carrying into their playing.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Sure. I think here I come right back around to context in two ways. One, depending on the sounds you’re using, not to get ahead and jump into sounds, but depending on the sounds you’re using, that should at least partially inform the ranges you choose to fill on the keyboard. If you’re playing a really bright pad and you’re also playing it in the 8th octave only, it’s going to be shrill. But if you take that bright pad and you play it in the middle and you let that high end sort of be filled in by that sound, you’re playing with an awareness of the context. The second piece that I think is important to consider when we’re talking about context here, a lot of worship teams I’ve seen don’t have a very good shorthand for how they talk about that space that the keys fill. So I think it’s really helpful for worship leaders and worship keys players that are on the same team to come up with an agree upon some language for how they talk about, hey, I want you to play in this sort of space or with this sort of intentionality or with this sort of openness or restraint.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

So there’s some like piano terms that we could use, like closed position, which is where the hands are typically kind of close together within maybe the span of only two octaves. And you could play in closed position, lower on the keyboard for more subdued moments. Or you could play in closed position higher on the keyboard, maybe for a bridge in like what a beautiful name, it’s got that twinkle, Twinkle, little star bit on the piano.

 

Alex |

You know, bro, you know.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Everybody know that it’s there. So, like closed position, you could define that, you and your team. And that could be a helpful bit of terminology to have. And then of course, the opposite. You have open position where there’s at least an octave or more in between your hands. And those are basic ideas about where your hands are going and kind of hinging upon how much space there is between them. But then you can move that distance all around the keyboard intentionally to create different fields to fill different space and oftentimes to purposefully not fill some space. So you might avoid the same octave range where the lead vocal is singing during that final bridge, not because it’s not useful frequency space, but because it’s super useful. It’s already being used by the lead vocal. So you’re going to like purposely maybe open position, play an octave below and an octave above instead of playing in closed position where that right hand is right there in the same range as the elite vocal or the electric guitar riff or whatever. So coming up with context for the way that you talk about how the keys fill space in your team can be a huge game changer because it just helps people talk about things and understand what is being said.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

You mentioned the example of the acoustic guitar playing worship leader. They can, you know, kind of, even if they’re not a super skilled electric guitarist, they can typically get the idea across or pick out a riff. They could sort of fake their way and say, just play this, but an octave lower to the bass player. And they could boom chuck their way to discuss things with the drummer. But that guitar to piano conversation can be really difficult if the worship leader doesn’t have any experience behind the keyboard. So if you can really simplify it down to are your hands close together or far apart and define why that is worth knowing or purposely deciding to do for a moment of a song sometimes that’s all it takes and it will like drastically impact where space is being filled and whether the keys are enhancing or distracting.

 

Alex |

Yeah, I think you bring up a really great point that maybe piano players don’t realize, which is that they have the power of the entire frequency spectrum and they are probably the only instrument that does, because guitars can’t get down to those lower registers and basis can’t get up to those higher registers, but the piano literally covers the whole spectrum. And so if they eat up the whole spectrum, they’ve taken everybody’s job. Right, and we’ll get into this later, which is the whole classical piano player does tend to have that tendency where they do feel like they’re supposed to COVID all the melodies and all the rhythms and all the frequencies all at once and then it leaves no space for the rest of the team. But one thing that I always tell, and I’d like to hear your take on this. I always tell our new keyboard players at our church, like, just basic general principles about what I want from them is, like, on your left hand, I want you to block out the chords with, like, big maybe octave, like thumb and pinky, big chord changes and kind of like, leave space on the rhythm stuff.

 

Alex |

Just kind of give me each chord change. And with the right hand I want you to do like melodic stuff, counter melodies or simple patterns that stay out of the vocals. So left hand is chord changes and right hand is countermelodies to the melody. That kind of work in like rhythmic patterns that work with the rest of the parts that everyone else is playing. Those are kind of my general principles. Would you push back on that at all or would you add to that?

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

No, I think that’s a solid approach to take. And I think if you’re working with trying to distill the position down to something that every volunteer in your team is going to be able to hang with, you have to end up at some sort of reduction of what those more skilled people in your team might be capable of. So I think that does look like some sort of a lot of the time we’re going to be doing this in the left hand and we’re going to be doing that in the right hand. And that could be like you’re describing blocking chords, thumb and pinky in the left hand. I find myself in that space a lot of the time, especially if I’m using synths like pads or have any bass going on. I’m mostly just hitting the changes and then letting that ring and then yeah, right hands. I think it depends to some extent, how many other melodic instruments you have in the band? If you have like one electric guitarist, then I think you can give that right hand a little bit more permission to move, to do a little bit more voice leading, a little bit more doubling the more other lead instruments you have.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

If you got two electric guitars, then you got one less finger, you got three electric guitars. You might be thumb and peeky in the right hand too sometimes, buddy.

 

Alex |

Yeah, that’s really helpful. And I would actually like you to talk about when you’re in a worship setting and you’re playing, I’m sure in Portugal it’s different church maybe, probably sounds different, maybe not. But when you led at the Worship Innovators conference, right, you played keys and you got this big band and you’ve got two electrics. So like we talked about already, the piano is an interesting instrument because you can play the chords and you can play some melodies with your right hand. So you have to listen to both the bass, which we’ll talk about next, and the electric guitars. What is your approach in terms of listening to the electric guitars versus complementing? How are you thinking about that and what are you listening for and what adjustments are you making as you’re listening?

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Yeah, it depends on the culture of your band. If you know that most of the people you’re going to be playing with are going to have spent a decent amount of time with the source material, meaning the original recordings or the tracks or whatever, and made some effort to get in that same sonic space, whether it’s I learned all the lead electric parts and I’m going to nail them, or if it’s as basic as I listen enough to know that the electric guitar is high on the neck for this part. So I’m going to also play high on the neck. If you’re listening to this podcast or watching this video and you’re a keys player, you probably have an idea of where the guitarists you play with fit into that spectrum. So it’s worth thinking about who you’re going to be playing with if you can know that. You mentioned the Worship Innovators conference. I played with a band of people I’d never played with before, but I had a decent reason to assume that they had all put in a good amount of effort to spend time with the originals, come prepared, be able to complement each other well.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

So in that context, I spent a good bit of time with the originals myself, kind of banking on everybody’s sort of understanding that we were going to be a full band, full of people that were going to be able to fill an appropriate amount of space. That being said, because I’d never actually played with these people before, I did this thing where I kind of like to prepare to fill a certain amount of space, but also prepare myself mentally to pull that weight back during rehearsal if I need to.

 

Alex |

You’re the perfect team member, David.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Well, there’s nothing worse than a band where everybody feels like someone else is trying to do their thing. And I would much rather feel like the people that are playing with me feel heard and musically understood and supported by the parts that I’m playing, then almost challenged by them or drowned out by them. So the key there is, whatever your approach to setting up your playing, your parts, your sounds is, I think it’s important to have some amount of flexibility mentally, physically, with your note placement and then also technologically with your hardware or your software. So that if you need to make changes, it’s not a huge interruption to rehearsal or whatever, it’s more of just a mindset shift and maybe you tweak a couple faders and then you carry on. It really depends. I think the keyboard player in the band really has to be supremely flexible if they want to play their part. With excellence, it is sometimes the most supportive role and then sometimes we are asked to stand at the very forefront and cover the transition that nobody mentioned and that everybody expects to go flawlessly and then everything in between.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

So I think flexibility is a great trait for any aspiring worship keys player to try and foster and build up in themselves. I’m still working on it, I love.

 

Alex |

It and I just want to point that out to all the keyboard players who are listening because your worship leader said this to you over prepare and be ready to flex. And I think that’s a great encouragement not just to the keys players, but to every musician listening. We should always bring our best and always take a very selfless approach to our crap. I always encourage musicians to play selflessly, not selfishly. Selfishly draws attention to yourself. Selflessly serves the song, serves the moment, serves the church, serves the worship leader. And we always want to have that posture of humility as we play, even if we can play the craziest rifts in the world. I’m sure David is a phenomenal keyboard player, he can play pretty much whatever, but it’s like he’s going to just approach it humbly and simply because that’s what best serves the song. And I think with an electric guitar you make some good points about like if there’s already a lot of people doing melody, then you don’t want to be doing counter melodies on top of their countermelodies because that’s just going to be super cluttered. But one thing you could do is outline I didn’t think about the song The Lion and the Lamb, the iconic riff that everybody knows, right?

 

Alex |

And it’s like the keyboard and the guitar can double each other and then you step off the keys and let the guitar go, whatever they do, right? And you have to make it sound just like that. But yeah, I think that doubling the guitars is cool in certain parts for sure. But if it’s too much rhythm on the guitar, like if the guitar line is really like fast 16th notes or whatever, just like top end frequencies that stay kind of around and outside. If you’re not watching on YouTube, you can’t see my hands. But those top end frequencies, that kind of leave space for that guitarist to do his rhythmic thing while still supporting the high end frequencies. Because the keys really do add so much of the top end in modern worship, you know, I mean, really top and bottom. And I don’t know if you would add anything to what we’ve talked about for electric. If we switch over to like, how are you listening to the base and what the bass players playing? Would you add some more thoughts to that or do you feel like we’ve kind of covered the gist of it?

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

I think the base can be really controversial. If you bring synth base as the keys player and you haven’t explicitly talked about that with the leadership of your team, if you just start doing it, it’s probably going to cause at least raised eyebrows amongst your team, if not outright like, hurt feelings. And I think it’s because historically, for a lot of modern worship music history, nobody else has played in that space. It’s exclusively belonged to the real onstage electric bass player and that’s absolutely not the case now. If you listen to any modern worship record, there is lots going on down there. There’s electric bass, there’s synth bass, there’s cello, there’s sometimes double bass, like stringed bass going on. And all of those things can work together to enhance the song and to create an awesome atmosphere musically. But just like when those decisions were made in the studio or before the live recording of whatever band you’re trying to play, those decisions were intentionally made at some point and everybody knew that it was going to happen and everybody agreed, yeah, this is going to serve this song. So if you are excited about bringing some low end to the mix from the keyboard and I think it can be an absolutely awesome thing, I love being able to add low end to the mix.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

You just have to make sure everybody’s bought into that decision and that you have the necessary permission you need from those and authority on your team to do so. And make sure the bass player understands that. Hey, if you can work with me on doing this, my goal is to make what you do sound even better, to just further enhance and support everything that you’re doing on stage. I am here to play underneath and alongside of the on stage bass. It’s not the other way around. And if you say that, then you actually have to do it too. So that means even more intentionally crafting what your left hand is doing and I almost never play rhythmic synth base parts unless it’s like a technoe, you know, dancy song like Hilson Young and Free or whatever where everybody’s playing percussive or syncopated parts the rest of the time. If I’m layering in a sub bass or whatever, it’s like whole notes on the changes, baby. And then I let the actual bass player define and keep up with the kick and kind of do those sorts of things that on stage bass is so good at doing.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

When you’re bassist and your drummer get in sync and they’re in the pocket together and you’re just sort of providing it’s almost like a pad, but for the bass player, right? Like the pad in general fills everybody else’s stuff and smooshes it all together in a pleasant way. Synth bass, I think at least in its most basic form, can kind of provide that same bed to the low end.

 

Alex |

That is super helpful and I never thought about it that way in the sense of like you’re literally just going to play the root note and not do any extra changes, just change on the chord changes and let the bass player handle all the extra stuff that he does or she does. Because I was thinking about it, a lot of the new modern worship songs have that rhythm, like on the fifth bass. But you’re saying unless the bass player is also driving 16th notes with a guitar pick, you’re not going to run that. Is that what you’re saying? Like, don’t do that because it’s too much crash.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

I think if you are exploring filling the space for the first time, it’s wise to start simple and add the frequency without the rhythmic complexity, at least at the very beginning. There are some awesome Arpeggiated bass parts that the synth brings to a lot of modern Russian music. And if you can sync that up with the rest of your band and play that really well live, it can be a really great effect. But I would say that the lowest common denominator is enhancing the frequency spectrum, not enhancing what’s going on rhythmically. And then maybe like level two of taking that somewhere would be okay, now how could we add some of that rhythmic energy to the low end as well? So it’s not that it shouldn’t be done, it’s just if this is new water for you to test, I think it’s maybe the second thing to bring. The other thing is if your bass player is stepping between those changes, you definitely want to have an ear to make sure that you pick up on it and either step off for those moments or that you say, hey, what’s that run you’re doing? Or that walk you’re doing?

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Can I go with you? And absolutely follow in those moments because if you got two both bass notes a whole tone away from each other because they’re walking down from the A chord to the e chord and you’re still holding A, but they’re on F sharp, that’s going to be pretty gnarly. So you definitely have to be actively listening during that rehearsal time and say, whatever runs you’re doing, I want to go there with you. If your base player doesn’t know what runs they’re going to be playing until they’re actually playing them, then that’s going to be another thing that you have to sort out within the dynamics of your team.

 

Alex |

Yes. I think what is standing out so far from this conversation is just how much the keyboard player must be listening. And this is all musicians, but great musicians listen more than they play. They’re listening to what’s happening around them and they’re making on the fly decisions to enhance and not distract or not to clash with what other people are doing. And so I think what you’re sharing is so useful is like we have to listen because if we don’t listen, then we’re taking everybody else’s job, especially the keyboard player. They can literally take everybody else’s job and then everyone else on the team hates you. And so you don’t want to be that keyboard player. And we’ve kind of touched on this, or began to touch on this earlier about this email that I got from a worship leader who has a classically trained keyboard or pianist playing with her or wanting to play with her. But after auditioning her, this worship leader was like, I don’t know if I can utilize somebody who’s just all over. They’re covering every frequency, they’re covering all the rhythm, they’re covering all the chord changes and the melody across the whole frequency spectrum.

 

Alex |

So please, our friend David coach any classically trained pianists right now. How would you coach them to rein it in, tone it down and better fit in a band context? Any advice?

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Yes, I have some strong opinions about this. I have been the worship leader in that exact situation you described. It’s actually how I got my start with making sounds for worship keys. Players in general was realizing that I was a worship leader with very talented, classically trained penis on my team who mostly just felt frustrated any time I opened my mouth and turned towards them because they felt that they were being underutilized held back and not taken seriously musically. So my, I guess, hot take is that the majority of work that needs to be done up front for there to be progress there is not in the hands of the keys player, but the responsibility is with the worship leader. And I’ll tell you why I think that that is true. For me, in my opinion, it comes down to skill. The classically trained penis absolutely has the skill to do whatever you’re going to ask them to do. You just don’t know what you want to ask for yet. As the worship leader, you haven’t figured out how to articulate in musical terms that that. Pianist can roll with something that is actually meaningful, but that will also jive and support what the rest of your band is doing.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

So, not that the penis doesn’t have to be flexible or doesn’t need to do things differently, but when I’ve seen that bridge gapped most effectively, it’s because the worship leader was willing to do a bit of homework themselves. To help figure out OK, how can I have these conversations in a way that isn’t just a bunch of please stop doing this. Don’t do that. Just play a pad. This sort of like, really, like, I don’t want you to use your skill, I want you to just like, be a DJ that plays reverb for 25 minutes every Sunday. So the worship leader, if they’re willing to put in that effort and make the first step, then once penis feel that their skill set has at least been attempted to be understood, they’re going to be a lot more open to making changes. The truth is that if you can go through that process pastorally with pianists that are classically trained on your team, they have the potential to end up being your rockstar, keys playing volunteers after walking through that process. Their left right hand separation is impeccable, their timing is immaculate, their sense of polyrhythm and voice leading and counter melody is more well defined than anybody else on your team, guaranteed.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

They understand how strings sound, they understand how orchestration works. They have so much potential. And if you can put in some effort as the leader to filter that in a way that doesn’t just reduce or ask them to do less, but instead says, hey, I understand the history and effort you put into building this craft, so let’s absolutely make the most of it in intentional, strategic ways. And you can talk about think of it like we’re writing a score together and you have one particular part to play in the orchestra. You’re not playing to a reduction of the entire orchestra on your sheet music. You are one player in the orchestra. It’s still classical music, if that’s helpful for you to think about it in those terms. But instead of being a soloist, you are one part of the 31 pieces that has this or you’re a section, like, maybe you’re the string section for this song. And the strings have four, five or six notes that they’re playing and sustaining so the obsess and the flutes and the clarinets can do their thing all over the place. That’s exactly what we want them to do when they play paths in a modern worship context.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Except the flute is electric guitar one, and the oboe is that background vocalist who’s a little bit pitchy, but you’re still playing five or six notes as the string section, but with a synth pad sound instead.

 

Alex |

Right?

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

So, like, putting in the effort as a worship leader to just like, get those ideas in your head so your conversations can use language and concepts that are meaningful to that person’s background. And once they understand, oh, they actually appreciate some of the artistry of what I’m capable of doing, and they’re trying to help me succeed here instead of just trying to get me to be someone that I’m not or do something that I’ve been capable of doing for 30 years. That extra effort upfront goes a really long way, and then you get to reap the benefit of that great timing, that great musical intelligence. They’re going to be able to play in all sorts of different keys if you ask them to. A lot of classically trained penis can end up being excellent at improvisation. They just need to know that that’s like something that they can practice and that you want them to have permission to do. So I think it’s absolutely, one, a really common scenario for worship leaders and for penis to find themselves in. And two, I think one of the most exciting opportunities that worship leaders can tap into.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Some of the greatest keys players that I’ve ever gotten to serve with were classically trained pianists. It does take some work upfront, but I think in the end, those are the people that end up being some of your greatest assets in the team.

 

Alex |

So wow.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

It’s a long little rant, but it’s a hot take, dude.

 

Alex |

I think it’s a fantastic hot take. I love that you are speaking to them in a language that they understand, ie. You are not a soloist, you are a part of an orchestra. So they’re already kind of grasping that’s a huge difference of a role. And then I love that you’re not stomping on their abilities, but you’re asking them to channel their abilities. I know you can do anything I ask you to do. I’m asking you to channel your skill set into this particular area for this particular song. So I think that is a fantastic way to approach it and just to encourage all the worship leaders out there who are struggling with this like it is a pastoral thing, it is a loving thing, it is a shepherding thing. Don’t throw the person under the bus for the sake of the song sounding how you want it to. That’s not what Jesus wants. He wants us to love the people more than the music. So just make sure that you’re going about it in a soft and kind and generous and gentle way. And as a coach and as a shepherd, like Paul says, we are to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

 

Alex |

So equip your piano players and go back and listen to what David go listen to David’s hot take three more times and then it’s really good. And also just to say this too, for the worship leaders listening, train your band to think this way, like it’s in America. David’s not in America anymore, but we’re getting close to Thanksgiving so we got to use a pie analogy. But if there’s 18 people at your Thanksgiving dinner, everybody’s going to have to eat a smaller piece of that pumpkin pie I’m sorry, or apple pie or whatever pie you like. And if there’s only four people in the kitchen, you can all have a big quarter of the pie, both rhythmically and melodically. But if you have 18 people, everybody’s got to eat a much smaller chunk. And that’s the same thing musically. Everybody has to simplify, simplify, simplify the more people you have on stage. And so I do go in depth in this on the Musical Excellence course in the Academy. And there is also a podcast episode that I have called in teaching your band to embrace musical simplicity. So check out both of those resources if you want more on this.

 

Alex |

But David, I do want to respect your time because it’s 10:00 where you are, but I want to talk obviously, you are huge about sounds. Your software is called Sunday Sounds, Sunday Keys. You make sounds for a living to serve and equip the local church. Let’s just quickly talk about what are like four or five go to sounds that every keyboard should have on their little, you know, patch button list there on their keyboard.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

OK, so start traditionally, you’ve got to have a great piano sound that sounds great, from your absolute lowest note to your absolute highest note that feels like you’re in control of it, that you can be expressive, dynamically. Those big, high intensity notes need to feel big and intense, and then those soft, fragile notes need to feel soft and fragile. And, like, it’s not easy for you to accidentally go a big and intense for one note of that little fragile moment. So you’ve got to have a great piano sound. Depending on the keyboard you’re using, that could be easy to find, you could have tons of options, or it could take a little bit of searching for you to find. But, you know, if you can find something that’s relatively good, sometimes just a little bit of reverb on that can help sweeten up. If it’s not, like, your favorite piano sound in the world, if it feels a little bit touchy or, you know, plasticky sometimes just adding a bit of reverb either on the keyboard or in your software, if you don’t have those kinds of options, even at the front of house, you could ask your audio engineer.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Can you just put a little bit of reverb on this piano? It’ll help it breathe. Not so much that you can’t play rhythmically at all. You don’t want it to be soupy and washed out, but you want a little bit of a sense of presence and air to that piano. So I’d start there. Second, if you’re going to play modern worship music, it’s a great idea to find a couple of goto pad sounds. So we talked about the orchestra analogy. Pads are like your strings, really. They’re serving the sort of the same purpose, oftentimes musically, of just filling in what everybody else is doing, playing some of the same notes and purposely avoiding some of the same notes and creating a bed of sound that glues the rest of the orchestra, the rest of the band together. Now, if you’re a worship leader or a keysplayer, you’ve probably heard different buzz words attached to the word pad. So, like a warm pad, a bright pad, a shimmer pad. I’m probably guilty of using some of those buzzwords during this interview. If you don’t know what that means, you can think about it in terms of temperature.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

So like, a bright pad could be like almost a hot pad, right? Like it’s taking up lots of higher frequency ear space. You really feel it. You walk into the room and OOH, that’s hot, I notice what that’s doing. And it’s like the musical equivalent of that. And a warm pad is sort of like this low temperature. It’s not like hot, it’s not taking up all of your attention, but it’s pleasantly warm. It’s not sizzling, but it has a certain like, coziness to it. And that’s the lower frequency spectrum. EQ notes used a lot of words. There being more prominent in the pad sounds. And then there’s all sorts of different kinds of pads we could get into that wouldn’t make for great podcasting if you don’t know where to start. And you have a keyboard with some presets, there’s probably some in there that sound like the pads you can hear on the songs your church is playing. So go find your favorite worship song, listen to it. Listen for the pads that you hear sort of the ambience, that sort of string like synthesizer sound. And then just like change presets until you find something that’s in the ballpark and then write down what preset that was and then start there.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

And then next time you play a different song that you also really like, find a different one. It doesn’t have to be all hinged on these buzzwords or these sounds that you have to have. You can trust your ear. And I think that’s actually a great practice to get into from the very beginning is instead of looking for something because somebody told me I need it, I’m going to try and hear what I need and then see if I can find what I’m looking for by here. I think sounds two and three would be like a warm pad that you could layer in with a piano and underscore. And then that third sound would be something big and bright, something aggressive hot that fills up that bright top in space, like kind of above the vocal, above the electric guitars. That’s what you’re bringing in for that big final bridge where everybody’s playing full strength and you’re sort of adding that extra sparkle and bite to the mix that’s good. From there, we’re talking about flavors and textures, right? For modern worship music. If you only moved into pianos and pads, you could do a lot of songs justice just there, especially if you’ve got a gifted electric guitarist or two on your team.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

So anything that you add on top of that, you’re making stylistic choices or you’re emulating the stylistic choices that were made by the bands you’re covering. So this is where we really get into that space of I’m playing an instrument that is some other instrument, but I’m playing it from the keyboard, like strings or maybe more traditional or distinct instrument sounds like organs or electric pianos, bells, other sorts of orchestral sounds. And those choices are really distinctly informed by who’s in your band, what songs you’re playing, and why you chose that specific kind of sound. And right at the very beginning of this call, we talked about the context. So if you pick an organ sound and then you play it like a piano, it’s going to sound like you don’t really know what you’re doing, even if you’re playing all the right notes. Or if you pick a bell sound and then you play it like a pad, that’s not going to work either. It’s going to fade out and the pad would sustain forever. So when you make these more character and texture driven decisions, it’s really intentional. It’s a lot of intentionality that’s required.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Like, why am I going to use this particular type of sound? What’s the purpose behind it? Yeah, go ahead.

 

Alex |

No, that’s good. And I mean, there’s so much more we could talk about in this podcast. Obviously, everybody needs to go. First of all, if you’re like, I want to learn more. David has an amazing YouTube channel where he teaches you all of this stuff and more. So go check out the Sunday sounds. Is a Sunday Sounds YouTube channel?

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Okay?

 

Alex |

Just search for Sunday sound on YouTube. You can get all of that free content. You have free pads that you give away every week on your mailing list. But the thing that I want you to tell everyone about is this incredible new app that you guys worked so hard on. It is like the most powerful keys app. I mean, it’s better than a computer. So tell us about the Sunny Sounds app and where people can get it and anything else you want to share about that.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Okay, yeah, I’ll keep it quick. So the app is called Sunday Keys, and the idea is that it has all of the sounds and workflows that you need to be able to sound great from worship keys at your church. And it runs on any modern iPad. So if you’ve got an iPad laying around at home, or if your church has one, you can download the app, you can purchase a license from our website, or you can even just try out the app for free in demo mode with a limited amount of sounds. It lets you find great sounds curated for modern worship music. So some of those staple sounds I talked about, like pianos, pads, strings, organs, electric pianos, synth leaves, synth bass, it makes it easy not just to have those sounds available, but to actually find the right sound for the song that you’re trying to play. So it can save you time, make sure that you sound excellent. And then the other big thing that the Sunday Keys app does is make sure that you’re actually able to perform reliably and easily when you’re on stage. Any time you introduce technology in your ministry when you’re playing music, you don’t want it to get in the way of you still being able to focus on music.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

Yes, but even more so than that on ministry. So the app is designed in every way possible to sort of make it easy to prepare and then get out of the way when it’s time to perform. So it’s simple to prepare your sounds, to lay them out in a set list, and then with just one or two taps or button presses, if you want to use your hardware to control it, it will just move through the different parts of your song. It will move from one key to the next, from one tempo to the next, all the way through your set list. And the idea is that if you take just a bit of time to prepare, then you don’t have to worry about those transitions. They’re going to be seamless and smooth. All of your sounds are going to be right where you need them. If you’re a worship leader who doesn’t know how to have these kinds of conversations like Alex and I have been having with your keys player, the Sunday Keys app is designed to teach you all of that common terminology and sort of reinforce the boundaries of how that relationship works.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

So we’ve talked about where your hands go on the keyboard and all the sounds, and Sunday Keys have predefined layer ranges that kind of hint at where you should play a given kind of instrument. You can adjust that if you want to, but it’s very helpful to be able to say to a volunteer, hey, when I ask you to go find a synth bass sound, it’s already going to have the right range selected for you. So if you have a reason to adjust it, you can. But you’re probably going to be good with it out of the box. So at the end of the day, Sunday Keys is just our attempt to simplify the role of the worship keys player from a technical standpoint so that folks can really feel like they’re playing their primary instrument on stage. And then the other thing it’s designed to do is just save worship leaders and volunteers time. It’s never been more fun to be a worship cues player. I don’t think because there’s so many cool parts and sounds all over modern worship music, but it can take hours and hours of effort to actually recreate all that programming, to learn all those parts, to chase down all of those sounds from scratch.

 

David Pfaltzgraff |

So what we’ve run into, the whole reason I started Sunday Sounds was because my own Worship Keys players at church were discouraged because they didn’t sound like the bands that we were playing and they really wanted to. So the hope for Sunday Keys is that it reduces the barrier to entry for sounding like, feeling like, and contributing like the bands that we’re all playing and being inspired by. So that’s the app. There’s a free demo. If you download it from the App Store, you’ll get a few sounds and you can give it a go, see what you think, and then if you want to learn more and purchase the full version, you can go to Sundaysounds.com and check it out for yourself.

 

Alex |

Awesome. And I will put links in the YouTube video and the podcast show notes. So David, thank you so much for your time. And I do see a couple of Academy members watching, so we’re going to be moving into just a short, brief Q and A time with you because I know it’s late where you live, but we’ll hop into that in a minute. And if anyone watching or listening wants to join the Academy so they can be part of these live interviews with amazing people like David and ask your own questions, you can check it out for just $1 at worshipmentistrytraining.com. But we’ll jump into our Q and A right now and Academy members sit tight for just a second. Thanks for tuning in today.

 

Alex |

I hope this episode encouraged you, helped you, and pushed you forward in your ministry. If it helped you, can you take a second and help us by sending it to just one person that you think needs to hear this? And if you’re feeling extra nice, leave us a nice shiny five star review on Apple podcasts. Or like this video if you’re watching it on YouTube. If you want to discuss this episode or ask questions, we do have a free section in our academy where you can post comments and questions and chat with other worship leaders just like you and also sample some of our courses. And you can go to Worshipinistrytraining.com Free to join us inside the free portion of the academy. If you’re looking for more, check out the full access academy. You can get 15 days for just $1 to start and try things out again. You can try all of it for 15 days for just $1 by going to Worshipinistrytraining.com Hope to see inside the Academy, or else I’ll see you next month for another helpfulness episode.