Finding quality arrangements of hymns and praise/worship music for piano students is not easy. To help make your search easier, in this post I’m going to share a few that have proven to work well with my students in recent years. I’ll also share snippets from a church-music-themed piano recital I did with my students.
Let’s talk just briefly about why finding appropriate hymn and praise/contemporary worship music arrangements for piano students is so tricky.
First of all, hymns are written in a homophonic (and even more specifically, homorhythmic) texture meaning they sing the same rhythm in a blocked chordal structure – one that is not easy to play for even intermediate-level piano students.
Second, while many churches are moving away from hymns, contemporary worship music trends, and changes so quickly, many of the “praise” books that were published in years past, no longer resonate with students.
This definitely creates a struggle for piano teachers!
Functional Musicianship in Daily Life
One of my solutions is to ensure all my students learn to play chord charts and lead sheets so we can easily download any worship song they like and learn how to play it or at least sing and accompany using chordal patterns.
Part of my teaching philosophy is that I want to enable my students to be functional musicians who can operate in multiple situations, especially those they encounter daily. For many in my studio, church is a big one.
One of my students just started playing in their youth worship band, and many others are providing music as preludes, communion, offering, and leading during youth-led services. I have several students who are also singers and love singing and playing contemporary worship music.
The next two photos are from our church music recital.
All my students learn to play from chord charts and lead sheets and a few older ones work on 4-part hymns on occasion, even if their church doesn’t sing hymns. It’s still an important skill they may be able to use someday!
Favorite Church Music Books for Students
In my opinion, Alfred, in general, has the best collection of sacred music out there. Their Sacred Performer series is full of a plethora of any type of book you could imagine. A lot of sacred music I get for students is published by Alfred.
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One of my all-time favorites
I had been on the lookout for a while for a book of hymns in their original state (not arranged) that were slightly simplified. The homophonic texture of most hymns is quite complicated for most students to play.
The Piano Student’s Hymnal from Alfred is exactly what I was looking for!
Praise Hits is a solid selection of music that’s generally not outdated. Often in the “praise hits” world, with the quick shift in contemporary worship music styles that occur, it’s easy for a lot of students to not be familiar with the music even in books marked as “Popular,” “Current,” or “Contemporary.”
Levels 1 and 2 are OK but Level 3 is my favorite. The pieces are written in a very chordal style with inversions and voicing similar to what I might choose to play if I were playing from a chord chart.
All of the levels correlate with the Alfred Basic Piano Library levels.
In that same Alfred Basic Piano Library is the Hymn Book series.
The leveling follows the same as the Praise Hits books.
The Play Hymns Series by Melody Bober and Robert Vandall is really nice.
Book 3 in particular, has a winning arrangement of It is Well with My Soul that sounds pretty impressive.
I’ve been able to use the arrangement in book 3 successfully with students playing in Faber Level 3A with a little rote help.
Of course, I can’t go without mentioning Faber’s Hymns supplements.
Book 2B is one of my favorites from this series since it focuses on using primary chord progressions.
Book 4 is one of my all-time favorite hymn arrangement books to use with students. There are lots of pieces and the arrangements are all very pleasing. I go for this book even before I go for books 3 or 4 in the Play Hymn Series mentioned above.
Bastien Hymn Favorites and Popular Hymns
Bastien doesn’t make it into my studio often, but I have used the Hymn Favorites books quite a bit. Level 2, once again, is my favorite.
Like Alfred and Faber, the levels correlate with the levels of the piano method series.
The Popular Hymn series is similar. I’ll be honest, I’m not exactly sure the difference between the two series. Maybe one was published at a later date with supposedly more “popular” hymns of the time?
Christian Hits for Teens
Christian Hits for Teens is one of my newest discoveries. One of my students performed “The Prayer” from Book 3 at the recital.
An intermediate-level student, not only was the piece a bit of a stretch, but I’ll admit I didn’t allow quite enough preparation time for her to master it.
We were about to cut the piece short during one of her lessons when we took a moment to listen to Celine Dion and Josh Groban sing the piece on YouTube. It gave me a brilliant idea!
Since we had two keyboards on stage, she played the first 2 1/2 pages and I picked up when it became beyond her ability halfway through page two and played to measure 60. She played measures 61 through the downbeat of measure 64 then I played the final page. She joined in with me on the final two resting chord measures to close it out and it worked quite splendidly – just like Josh and Celine! 😉
Current and Classic Praise
Carol Tornquist is one of my favorite arrangers of Christian piano arrangements. Her book Current and Classic Praise (Late Intermediate / Early Advanced) is one of my absolute favorites. A couple of my students have played from and really enjoyed it.
The selections are current and classics, literally! My favorites, in particular, include 10,000 Reasons, How Great is our God, In Christ Alone, Your Grace is Enough, and Your Great Name. I have to say though that there’s not one arrangement in the book that I don’t like!
She also has a book called Christian Hits I recently purchased and am excited to keep on hand. It’s marked as “Easy Piano” but we all know that’s a lie. 🙂 Come on publishers!
I have a student who plays around the level of Faber Level 3B who this was perfect for. It includes inversions, root-5th-octave-crossover accompaniment patterns, dotted 16th rhythms, and plenty of syncopation.
My biggest qualm with the whole “easy piano” mark is that when people other than teachers (like piano parents) go out to buy a book for their students for Christmas or something, they never pick the proper difficulty level because of labels like this. They think “gee, my student has been taking piano for 5 years, they surely play harder than easy music” and they get them an advanced level book which is not even close to what they can handle. We should all put our heads together and come up with a better labeling system!
Super Easy Songbook: Hymns
This Hymns book from the Super Easy Songbook series by Hal Leonard is a great resource to have on hand as it’s full of 60 hymns in lead-sheet style in the keys of C, F, and G.
It includes charts with suggested chord inversion at the beginning of every piece.
One of my adult students who has played by ear her whole life (and only in the key of F!) is playing out of this book. I also have her reading 4-part hymns in a variety of keys and playing one chord chart praise hit each week. She is doing great with the combination and is a star student!
The Phillip Keveren Series
One of my other favorite composers, (even more than Carol Tornquist, shh!) is Phillip Keveren. The guy is brilliant. Hal Leonard has a gold mine with his incredible Phillip Keveren Series out there LOL. 🙂
My all-time favorite piano worship music book is Worship with a Touch of Jazz. Oh my, it’s gorgeous.
This is from the Piano Solo series which is Late Intermediate/Early Advanced. My student who is playing in the RCM Celebration Series Level 6 is playing from this book.
There’s also a Hymns with a Touch of Jazz book I came across while writing this post that’s already in my shopping cart. I can’t wait to try it out!
From his Easy Piano series, is the Weekly Worship book that is full of 52 hymns.
The leveling would be good for a student around Faber 3A-3B. It is also a great book for adult students interested in playing hymns that may find the homophonic hymn-style too challenging.
As a bonus, each piece includes a short “hymn history” segment – a beautiful tool for discussing the piece.
10,000 Reasons (15 Contemporary Christian Hits) another in the Easy Piano series, has some great arrangments in it.
One of my students who’s big into praise and worship music has gone through nearly every piece in this book!
Our CHurch-Music-Themed Recital
For our church-music recital, every student had the opportunity to perform two pieces. The first piece was an assigned “reading” piece arrangement. For their second piece, they were given the option of:
- Another reading/arrangement
- A piece by ear
- A chord chart to play and sing
- A lead sheet
- 4-part hymn with the possibility of the audience singing along
- Other ideas they may have…
Four of my youngest students played a piece by ear. They included “The B.I.B.L.E.,” “This Little Light of Mine,” “God is so Good,” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” They played the melody in the RH and we added single bass tone harmonies in the left.
This father/son duo played an arrangement of Christ the Lord is Risen Today. How special is that!?
I was especially happy to have a couple of students play hymns that the audience sang along with. One played “Faith of our Fathers” about halfway through the recital (I “led” the singing) and another did the “Doxology” as the final piece of the recital. It was a great way to close out a church-music-themed recital and to pull the audience in to make music together!
Aren’t they delightful?
What are your favorite church music books? Let’s keep the list going in the comments!