Practice plan for the musician:
Have the ability to execute chords, runs, and fillers with little or no thought. It is automatic because of all the time spent developing the skill. Develop this by lots and lots of practice. Franz Lizt had his students spend four or five hours running scales. He would also demand that they play progressions and runs for hours and hours because it then becomes automatic. Develop technique by doing arpeggios, chords, runs, and progressions over and over.
In order to learn your scales and basic triads get a Hannon book. It is all written in the key of C. At first get yourself a primer reading book to learn how to read basic music. You should spend about 15-30 minutes with your reading book if you don’t already know how to read. When you practice for good technique just don’t go through the motions. Listen to what you’re playing. Does it sound clean? If you were a listener would it sound pretty to you? Even a scale or an arpeggio can sound pretty. If you make it sound pretty go for evenness and exactness. There are several books on technique I use if you read notes:
Hannon and Clementi
Technique is not just being able to play a scale but playing it clean.
Not just playing it clean but playing it very fast.
Not just very fast and clean but fast clean and even.
Not just fast clean and even but fast clean, even and with feeling.
And this goes with scales in octaves, thirds, sixths and trills and bass lines. Everything that you utilize in your playing can be broken down into technique. Bass lines are scales and runs done in your left hand.
The understanding of how music is made. How to create the sound you are looking for by using principles such as understanding progressions and the chords that make up the progressions and to be able to alter the sound by altering your chords. It is understanding scale theory, chordal theory, improvisation, ear training , and rhythm.
It is extremely important but not necessary to play. Many readers don’t know theory and many ear players don’t know theory but I will say that theory can only help you grow at a faster rate, what ever your method of understanding ear or theory is.
Every other day devote some time, at least 1/4 of your time to harmony. Understand how to put together chords in their various scales. How to do substitutions, how to harmonize melodies, how to form new phat chords.
An example may be running a 2-5-1 in every key or playing the 2-5-1 with bass notes other then the root. You can utilize a book for your harmony practice or you can use a DVD and take a section that deals with harmony.
5. Runs - Improvisation
Dedicate the other days of the week to the practice of runs and improv.
You can imitate horns or other keyboardists or you can get a book on improvisation and work out of it.
You have so many scales. You can play major scales, minor scales, Arabic scales, blues scales, whole tone, chromatic, diminished. The idea is to first learn how to play them cleanly and efficiently, always striving for evenness and beauty. Learn to play melodies at first. If you don’t know how to solo, learn how to play the melody very well to every song you are learning and use this melody as a guide to assist your soloing.
There are other methods as well. Most jazz books and blues books talk about soloing. So you can go that route or listen to a run and duplicate it. That way you are using your ear. This alternate method is very effective. Above all, remember it is not going to come over night but work on it every day! Be patient with yourself.
6. Copy Your Favorite Artist
I like this approach because artists have styles that you will notice. They do the same sort of things over and over. So your growth will be faster if you study a particular artist at first. Also because you like him or her, you will be motivated to learn from that artist.
The best way to study an artist is to learn them by ear because usually when you read the music from a songbook you are not involving all of your senses in the learning process. Although the book can yield more accurate results, the ear will yield the most lasting results.
Play along with the songs of your favorite artists. Put yourself right there on the stage with them. Listen to all the instruments. Each time you go back and hear a song over and over, you can play a little more. I hear a little more each day and my feel improves each day.
If you had an hour your schedule would look like this:
20 minutes on technique
20 minutes on harmony
20 minutes learning from your favorite artist
On the other days:
20 minutes on technique
20 minutes on scales and runs improvisation
20 minutes learning from your favorite artist
You will find that in a relatively short time you will be growing.
Why is this method so effective? Well, the technique that you learn gets applied as you practice the harmony and the improv. And the things you learn in the improv and harmony gets utilized in the studying your favorite artist.
Now, what if your ear is not that good? Well, learn how to read from primer method books, Bastien and Alfred. After you go through the second book, you can grab a blues or jazz method book like Alfred jazz or blues keyboard.
Learn how to read chord charts. They have books on this, too. You need to be able to provide a chord just from a chord symbol.
7. Buy Song Books
Songbooks have both the notes and the chord symbols. This is great because you can create your own chord dictionary. When you see a chord symbol you don’t understand, just look to see how they play it.
WOW gospel makes a songbook for every year. The arrangements are developed for piano. They are not exactly note for note. Correct for the instruments because they are assuming you are playing solo piano.
This is good because after working with the wow for a while you will get a feel for translating what you hear to your keyboard (figuring out how to balance a good bass line with horn hits and chord voicings and melody treatment).
Kirk Franklin had a songbook for every album he did. And the chords are very accurate. Israel Houghton has songbooks also.
Between listening to the music and reading the notes, even if you are not a good reader or good hearer, the two resources will help you.
One thing that theory people miss out on in the beginning is feel. And sometimes ear players miss things that they are not used to. They have a tendency to put in too much or not enough depending on their level. I have heard many a person say, “less is more”. Don’t overplay a hymn turning it into a jazz or funk song.
Play a song like it is meant to be played. There is a time and a place for everything. Can you play the song straight the first two times and then add the creative stuff on the third and fourth verse?
Last note, all songbooks have the melody and choir parts written out. If you are working out of songbooks, learn how to play the choir parts. This is great for developing your ear and your technique at the same time because contrary to popular opinion, gospel music is about the words and singing more then the musician. So learn how to play those melodies and how to harmonize the melody. Technique will help your execution. So if you can, spend as much time as you can by developing your technique.