What to play on violin at church?

February 7, 2019, 11:36 AM · My church sings hymns during first service. There are about 8 people that sing all four parts (SATB). They are accompanied by a grand piano and sometimes a keyboard with an organ patch.

I asked to play along on my violin once a month and they gladly accepted me into the group. Now I am having a little trouble with deciding what to play with them. I just picked my violin back up last summer after playing at school for about 5 years. I really want to use my tallent to glorify God and I wanted a reason to get me to practice.

The first time I played I figured out the chords and slowly played the notes throughout the entire song. The sheet music given to us by the worship leader looks exatly like the pages from a hymn book. I really liked playing the chords but it was difficult to figure out what chord to play. I had a month to practice and figure out what to play for all 6 songs. But this time I only have a week. The piano player (my mom) suggested that I just play the alto line. So I will be doing that this week and see how it goes.

I do not have any experienced violin friends to help me with this and this website seems to be full of them. So if you were a not very experienced single violin playing with a small 4 part harmony choir and a piano, what would you play?

Here is a link to the video of the first time I played. http://www.truthcasting.com/player.aspx#showSermon=187671

Or go to cwcmv.org, find the sermons, and search for 2018-12-30 Traditional Service!

Replies (18)

February 7, 2019, 11:46 AM · Hi! I think picking one of the parts to play is a good plan.

I play violin at my church too (we have a contemporary service, so I double on guitar), and I usually just use my ear and the chord charts and improvise.

However, it's more difficult when it's 4 part harmony, but you've got an advantage of having the music in front of you. I would pick and choose some parts to double, but maybe not accompany the whole time. Pick strategic places to play where it'll make the most sense and will enhance the music the most. For some pieces, you might not play a lot at all. Others, it might sound good to play more. Simple is usually better, too! Try not to be too busy with fast notes or too many notes.

I usually just play as Holy Spirit leads me, and it always ends up working out really nicely.

Edited: February 7, 2019, 12:08 PM · I have a bit of a different setup for my church's choir (well, not MINE, but I'm some kind of assistant to the music director there) and I usually am playing the melody to support the voices or a descant. If there's an instrumental line, then I'll play that.
If you have a music director there, it's best to ask them. Mine tells me what to play for the most part.
I always play refrains, and usually not verses unless asked. Creates some contrast, like coming home after being away. And I usually do introductions to hymns as well (instrumental refrain, then with choir).
Also, pro (not really) tip: Don't do chords, or try and figure that stuff out. 2 reasons:
1) Giant rolled chords will interrupt the musical line.
2) Organists (especially church organists) are often amazing improvisers, and will rarely use the parts in the keyboard books. They typically improvise their own chord progression based on the passage. If your chords disagree with theirs, it will be hard to change if you're not musically flexible, and it will also sound nasty if you find that out when you're already playing.
Anyways, good luck!
If you have more questions, just ask.
Also, if you can't project, or not very well without sacrificing tone quality, then ask for a microphone when playing with organ. Those can be a real challenge to play with, and you can easily be drowned out by one.
Edited: February 7, 2019, 12:02 PM · The Devil's Trill???
Just kidding.
Edited: February 7, 2019, 6:53 PM · @Kristen Stadelmaier

Thank you, that is very helpful!! It never even came to mind not playing all the time. It completely makes sense. This is totally different then what I have ever done before. Usually I am singing and not a part of the band. This first thing I did was to ask the worship leader what I should play and he said whatever I wanted. He has never arranged anything for violin before. He just works with vocals and piano.

@ Nina Roco

Great ideas? That sounds like it would really be a nice way to play. Also, I am playing on an acoustic electric violin. So I am plugged in when I play :)

@Jeff Terflinger

lol...maybe not for the seniors in the congregation. Ans besides, not quite at that level yet in my violin skills.

Thank you all for your help!!

February 7, 2019, 12:43 PM · Wendy, your sound sample seems like you are doing a good job so far. The minister also had some interesting things to say.

(Disclosure: I am a preacher's kid who sang and played the violin in church from a very early age.)

When you are ready and up for it, you or your mother could probably come up with some good descant parts.

Edited: February 7, 2019, 1:38 PM · Yay for pastors kids...I am one too!! Thank you so much David. Having another violin player praise my playing means a lot!!
Edited: February 7, 2019, 3:00 PM · When I was a teenager I did a two-year stint as an organist in a small, progressive LCA church in my hometown. For offertory and processional type pieces, I found it useful to have books of Elizabethan music. I didn't really have foot-pedal chops, but with some practice I could double some of the bass notes in the keyboard part. I had pretty good improv skills, so I would sometimes play the piece twice (if there weren't repeats in the score already), ornamenting and improvising the second time through. Nobody ever called me on it because they didn't know the pieces! I had multiple books of that kind of music at home because our family had a harpsichord in addition to a piano. I also did the same thing with obscure hymns right out of the hymnal. I could sight read so I didn't really need more than a couple of runs through anything to be ready. If special stuff was requested for holidays, well then obviously I shedded that stuff. All of that was great fun and an incredible learning experience and I even enjoyed most of the sermons even though I've always been an atheist. I made it clear at the outset that I wasn't going to become a member or participate in any of the rites.
Edited: February 7, 2019, 3:01 PM · Wendy, wouldn't it be fun (and a little appealingly dangerous) if we could get a bunch of us together at a preacher's kids convention? I'd go, and I bet my sisters would too.

February 7, 2019, 3:42 PM · Wendy,

My primary goal when starting the violin at 30 (that's 41 years ago) was to play in church. While it is easy for the violin to double the Soprano line, playing descants is often welcome as most non-professional soprano's aren't sufficiently trained/secure in going up to where a violin plays on the "E" string. Also, if you are secure enough you can either play the octave of the soprano line or a third above thereby extending the harmonies.

There are also some books of religious based music written for violin and piano/organ.

Edited: February 7, 2019, 6:55 PM · Playing in church is also the reason I picked up the violin again. Did you ever get to play in a church George? I had actually stopped before because I wasn't using the violin anywhere...just practicing. I am not sure I am even ready so much to play...but I can pretty much play notes on tune and I can sight read pretty fast (that is from my piano playing experience). I am still working on vibrato and moving to 3rd position. But hey, the church is gracious and I think I will learn things faster if I am performing at least once a month.

David, I am there!! Go PKs!!

February 7, 2019, 7:46 PM · If you get online and google Celebration Hymnal, you will find that you an order a 1and 2 violin part. It’s a bit pricey but you will not be disappointed if are needing traditional. It does have some newer praise pieces too. It has a melody line and a 1st and 2nd line, so if you are very traditional and sing all verses you will add in so much just by reading what’s on the page! Keep up the good work!
February 8, 2019, 1:45 PM · I really wish my church did an offitory. But we just pass the bags during the last song.
February 8, 2019, 3:05 PM · Wendy,

Did I play in church? Yes for quite a while. I also played in a multigenerational community orchestra that was operated by a bunch of music teachers at a local Catholic High School.

As an Episcopalian, we have a hymnal that has hymns from the very simple to the very complex and many of them have descants that few amateur choir members are wiling to attempt, let alone sing during a service. Enter me and my violin, soaring just above the choir adding a bit of color on top.

We had some clergy and music changes also my work took me on the road for quite a while so there was little if any time for practice or rehearsal. Retirement gave me back the time to play but I no longer perform as I'm not a night person any longer, the music program at church has changed and the leadership doesn't want to hear my instrument. I don't play in orchestras because I have some effects of injuries that can, and do, stop me cold if I try to play more than about 45 minutes straight.

Back to you. Yes, I played and enjoyed it for a long time. Either find those descants or just write yourself one an octave or third above the soprano's.

February 8, 2019, 6:33 PM · Timothy wrote:
"Oh and the pastor's kids were always the biggest trouble makers ;) I can't begin to tell you some of the stories about one pastor's son in particular."

Shhhh... :-)

February 8, 2019, 6:54 PM · Bach's cantata - violin obligato! Can't go wrong with that, if you find a hell of a singer.

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