Church pianist are usually wondering if they are playing a hymn introduction that is appropriate. Since the introduction is the “front door” to a song then it should be both useful and beautiful.
Learn to Follow Your Worship Leader
The congregation is following the worship leader (minister of music) but the introduction to the hymn should be easy to follow so that everyone will know exactly when to begin singing.
In the past, more of the worship leaders wanted the pianist to play the introduction and stop, waiting for the worship leader to begin singing. Now, more worship leaders count the time as the introduction is being played and will begin singing immediately following the introduction.
If the first measure is a partial measure then the last measure of the song will also be a partial measure. The partial measure at the beginning of the song and the partial measure at the end of the song combined will make one full measure.
Example for a hymn beginning with a partial measure: The time is 4/4 and the first measure is a partial measure containing one beat. Then the last measure will contain three beats. As you play the introduction the worship leader will count for three beats as you play the last measure and then begin singing on the fourth beat.
If the first measure is full then the last measure will also be a full measure.
Example for a hymn beginning with a full measure: The time is 4/4 and the first measure and the last measure are full. As you play the introduction the worship leader will count the four beats in the last measure and begin singing on the first beat of the song.
Purpose of a Hymn Introduction
Hymn introductions play a vital role in congregational singing at church. Since we serve a living God then the pianist should play an introduction that reflects this message.
We express emotion through music so the piano introduction should set the mood for singing during the worship service.
Introduction Brackets in Modern Hymnals
Modern hymnals have brackets (corner shaped) that are located above the score to suggest a suitable piano or organ introduction.
Some marked introductions are completely at the beginning of the hymn or completely at the end of the hymn. These piano introductions are the easiest to play.
Some marked introductions will include a phrase at the beginning and a phrase at the end of the song. Be sure to carefully look at the brackets before you begin playing. This make it clearer to you about what you will be playing and so that you will be able to make the jump from the first phrase to the last phrase.
Scanning the marked hymn introduction makes it easier for you to see the entire introduction. You may want to highlight the marked introduction in your personal hymnbook. This may be very helpful if the introduction that is marked is in more than one place or when the final phrase of the introduction is not at the end of the hymn.
It is a little more difficult to play if the introduction if the jump between the parts of the introduction are made in the middle of a phrase. You should practice this intro until you are comfortable playing it.
If the hymn is unfamiliar to your congregation, then you might want to play the entire hymn so that the congregation will be more comfortable singing it. If the hymn is well know, then the last line or phrase may be a sufficient introduction.
It is OK to shorten or lengthen the suggested introduction that is marked in the hymn book.
Additional Tips for Playing Hymn Introductions
1. Be excited about each song that you introduce!
2. Keep the introduction moving until the very end of the song
3. Do not observe any holds while playing the introduction
4. Do not slow down because this will destroy the singing tempo
5. Keep the introduction moving
6. Don’t play an arpeggio of cascading notes to end the introduction
7. End the introduction with the same chord in which the song begins
8. Play a rousing, loud introduction to encourage the congregation to join in the singing
9. Even though you play a rousing introduction for peppy songs, you may want to play a more subdued mood for devotion type hymns
Apply these tips for playing hymn introductions and it should make a difference in the congregational singing at your church.