If you are a church musician, it can be a challenge to find service music on a regular basis, especially if you are new to the field or don’t have a large library of music to rely on. It can also be rather draining on your budget. But you don’t always have to purchase something new to provide great music. Sometimes, the most effective and beautiful music is something that you create yourself. I find that a lot of people are moved by hymns that they know by heart. When you play the hymn, even without singing, they stop and think about the words as you play the tune. A great way to use this in a worship setting is to create an arrangement from a hymn or worship song. Try practicing some of these ideas and see if you can come up with a great hymn arrangement for your next service, gig, or for your own personal enjoyment.
Choose an appropriate hymn or worship song. Select a hymn or song that fits the season, the service, and the situation. If you’re creating an arrangement for the first time, try something that you are already familiar with. You’ll have more confidence and you won’t have to work as hard at it.
Learn it as written. Practice the hymn as written. The four part chords are meant for singing, but you’ll learn a lot by simply playing it that way. You can even include it in your arrangement if you like.
Chart the chords. Pencil in the chords over each note, it will help you create flowing arrangements later on. Also, look for which chords are integral to the melody, and which chords you can consider as passing chords to leave out.
Octaves in the bass. One simple way to play an arrangement is to play the root of the chord in octaves in the bass, and play the melody in your right hand. Keep the melody as the highest notes, and fill in the rest of the notes of the triad with your right hand, too. This creates a rich full sound (which is also great for congregational singing).
Arpeggiate. A pretty, simple way of creating an arrangement is to play arpeggios in the left hand while simply playing the melody in the right. This is where those chords come in handy! Leave out the passing tones as needed.
Octaves in the treble. If you want to add power to your arrangement, try playing the melody in octaves in the right hand over chords or arpeggios in the left. The result will be a louder, stronger sound.
8va or 8vb. For interest, play everything an octave higher or an octave lower. For a more hollow sound, play the melody and accompaniment far apart. For a richer sound, play them closer together.
Melody in bass. If you want to be daring, switch the melody to the left hand. It may be a little bit challenging if you’re not used to it. Add some flowing accompaniment with the right hand.
Stride bass. I love stride bass to add some fun and flavor. Play the root or fifth of the chord low in the bass, catch it with your pedal, and then play the chord in the octave below middle C. This works well for fast-paced hymns.
Intros. Don’t forget to add an introduction to your arrangement. The last line works well, or you could even start with a few simple arpeggios or stride bass. Try to bring a little flavor of your arrangement into the intro so your listeners know what is coming.
Once you’ve played around with these techniques, it’s time to experiment and have fun! Get to know the hymn well enough that you can play freely and try new things. When you find some ideas you like, practice them! The last step is to put your ideas together, and create transitions in between them. Finally, practice your arrangement as a whole so that it is seamless and well-rehearsed when it is time to put it to good use. Even if it was hard to create our own arrangement the first time, the more you work at it, the easier it will become. In time, you’ll have your own style and form that you can rely on when you need a great piece of music in a hurry.