How Gospel Musicians Think

by Vaughn Brathwaite

(Part 1 of 3) ...

"I feel like they're so talented, and they make it look easy...

But when I play, it sounds like I’m just an amateur…

Just “fooling around” on the keys.”

Mark slumped at the piano, he was clearly upset with his lack of progress.

He stopped by my Berklee “Gospel Keys Reharm” class

His friend (who’s a student of mine) had recommended he come see me.

We were talking to see how my class could help his playing.

As he talked with me, I listened…

“I’ve tried YouTube, DVD's, online courses, and even a few private lessons over the years. But I never really progressed. Then as life got busy. I’ve just played piano on and off ever since.”

A few days earlier he’d gone to a church to see his favorite gospel artist.

All night he saw everyone staring at keys player in the musician’s corner.

Mark looked longingly at him playing.

Daydreaming, wishing it was him that people were amazed by…

He decided that he was going to finally get serious about learning gospel keys

After all, it was something he’d always wanted to do.
 
When a friend at in another class (which happened to be one of my students) suggested that Mark talk to me, he stopped by my class immediately.
 
So there we were in my classroom.
 
“So what do you want to be able to do on keys, Mark?” I asked.
 
“Well, I’m probably just dreaming here…
 
But it would be AMAZING to be able to play any song I want with cool sounding chords
 
Everything I play now sounds so boring and basic…
 
I also want to be able to improvise and jam with the musicians at church, and play some cool stuff like Cory Henry and guys like that… 

I just want the freedom to be able to sit at the keyboard and just “flow”... without feeling limited, you know?”

“And what’s stopping you from doing that now?” I asked.
 
Mark slumped on the piano bench again.
 
“I just don’t know how to get there
 
Where to start…
 
Or if it’s even possible for me.
 
I just don’t know how to get out of this rut I’m in. 
 
When I finally get time to sit down to practice, I just end up spinning my wheels…
 
I can play a few basic chords, and a few bits and pieces of songs but…

"I get sick of playing the same stuff over and over"

What I play sounds NOTHING like the gospel musicians I listen to.
 
And I just feel so… “limited” on the keys.
 
And when it comes to chords, scales and theory… it’s just so overwhelming!
 
I can’t for the life of me figure out how to put it all together in my head!
 
I end up sounding “mechanical”… or I keep hitting the wrong notes and it drives me crazy!
 
I mean, I have a good work ethic and I’m willing to learn… but I…”
 
He paused for a second, realizing what he was about to reveal…

“I’m just afraid it’s all going to “go over my head”. And sometimes I wonder if I’m too "slow" to grasp it.”

He looked at the floor. 
 
“Mark” I said…
 
“I know how you feel.”
 
“You DO?!” he blurted.
 
“Yeah… Because I’ve been where you are.
 
In fact, most of the successful gospel musicians I’ve taught have faced the same frustrations you’re going through right now.
 
The good news is…
 
In the same way you sneeze and cough when you have a cold or the flu…

Your challenges are just symptoms of an underlying problem

And when you cure that problem, the symptoms disappear.
 
Would you like to know what the real problem is?”
 
“Well yeah absolutely!” Mark said with a glimmer of hope in his voice.
 
“Well…” 
 
I paused, wondering whether I should explain further.
 
“Let me just say this…
 
… There’s a bible verse that says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. “
 
If you learn to THINK like the pros … then you won’t have a problem playing like they do.
 
There’s your hint for now. 
 
Before we go any deeper though, the first thing we need to do is a test, to see if you have this trait in you.

"After 20 years, I’ve found there’s ONE trait you have to have if you ever hope to be good at playing gospel music"

And unfortunately it’s not taught anywhere else.
 
But if you DO acquire this trait, the rest is easy.
 
But if not, well… 
 
You’ll just keep playing basic chords.
 
AND before you ask” I said…

“It’s not natural talent or a “musical gift”. It’s not a good ear. And it has nothing to do with your fingers, the way your brain is wired, or reading music.”

Baffled… he stared at me like I had three heads. 
 
Then his face slowly melted into fear… 
 
Wondering… hoping… that whatever “it” was… 
 
Maybe… just maybe… he had it.
 
“Would you like to take the test?

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