Stressed Out Because They Expect Me To Play A Song I Don’t Know On The Fly

Posted on 18. Sep, 2013 by in Ask Greg

Playing Behind A Singer


While I was attending Church, a woman began singing her special musical number acapella. As she sang, the pianist listened, hit a few notes, and then began accompanying her as if they had rehearsed the song. The pianist used runs, changes and a great ending.

How can a struggling pianist learn to do that? That is, the ability to catch up with a singer and start playing the song being sung? Thanks for the musical knowledge. You’re one of the best teachers I’ve ever heard.


You’ve just described what I called a seasoned musician with a lot of experience that’s been playing for quite some time. Nonetheless, there is a method to the madness. To begin, NO MUSICIAN can instantly sit down and play something they’ve never heard before. You mention that “he began accompanying her as if they had rehearsed the song. Without asking the guy who was playing that day, we don’t truly know if he was familiar with that song or not.

Let me explain what’s happening. You mentioned that “As she sang, the pianist listened, hit a few notes”. The first thing he did was “identified the key of the song.”  This is very simple and  I teach you how to do this in theContemporary Chord Finder learning System.

All the “runs, chord changes and the great ending” that the musician used was all apart of his personal vocabulary of progressions and licks that he learned and memorized over time. Therefore, he was not playing these elements for the first time. In actuality he has used these devices time and time again in many songs before.

So your next question is probably, “How I learn to do the same thing”?  I’m glad you asked. You have to develop a library of the most common progressions, run and fills that are used in gospel music. Most seasoned musicians not only have a large vocabulary of ideas to choose from; as they learn new progressions, they go a step future and learn them in every key. So when a soloist steps to the mic, they are not intimidated because over time they became comfortable with every key, including B, E, A and D.

Even if you don’t have an immediate use for a great progression or run, learn it in every key. Over time you will notice your ear developing and find yourself incorporating new ideas into your music.

For now, review the Contemporary Chord finder learning system and master each chord progression. They’re written out in black & white in every key. Make it a part of your daily practice routine. The more you know and learn about chord progressions, the more ideas you can add to your music.

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