Although gospel music is defined by the religious aspect of its lyrics, certain musical traits have developed over the years as well. Gospel piano is used for everything from accompanying sermons to providing the backbone of mainstream gospel music's development. While gospel piano playing can vary, there are certain chord progressions used most often. Gospel playing can be identified by its piano chord progressions and variations.
Pick the key you want for your song. Different keys have different scales that determine the notes in the song's melody. These other notes are the building blocks for all the chords played in a given chord progression.
Decide on a chord progression. Gospel utilizes many specific chord progressions to give it its particular sound. Common gospel progressions include the 7-3-6-2-5-1 progression, the 3-6-2-5-1 progression and the 6-2-5-1 progression.
Extend your chords to give them a more fluid and funky sound. An extended chord is just a variation or enhancement of the basic chords with additional notes. Gospel utilizes extended chords frequently, as gospel piano players sometimes play all seven notes of the scale in a given chords. When more than four notes are used in a chord, the chord is typically played with two hands and utilizes notes that are an octave (8 notes) or more above the root note.
Voice your chords. A voicing of a chord is a method of playing a certain chord in a different way. Gospel music often uses alternate voicings of chords that allow the lowest note of each chord to function as a bass line. One chord can be played different ways, through the rearrangement and omission of some notes in the chord. To return to the earlier example of the typical gospel 3-6-2-5-1 progression, chords here are typically voiced in a way in which the lowest note played in a given chord progresses in small increments.
Listen to gospel recordings to get a sense of the rhythm that gospel piano players employ.
There is no one way to play any of the above progressions. When it comes to voicings and extensions of chords, it's best to play around with different formats. If constructing chords doesn't come naturally, write down all the notes in the key you want to play. Then construct various incarnations of the chords, using that chart.
Practice your chords before you play in public. Ask someone you know and trust if she thinks it sounds good and if she thinks it sounds like gospel.
- Courtesy of a Creative Commons License (Flickr/J. Weissmahr)