Help for the small-to-medium sized church organist/pianist
By Barbara Hamm
Go through your church's hymnal and play every hymn.
Consider the purchase of new hymnals if your church's are 10-15+ years old.
Buy for yourself as many denominational hymnals as you can afford, esp. the New Century Hymnal (UCC), the Chalice Hymnal (DOC), Worship & Rejoice (Hope), The Faith We Sing (Methodist), With One Voice (contemporary Lutheran supplement), Gather, and Ritual Song (GIA—wonderful accompaniments), as well as collections of hymns:
Brian Wren—Praising a Mystery; Visions and Revisions; We Can Be Messengers-Worship Songs: Christmas, Before and After
Dan Damon—Faith Will Sing; The Sound of Welcome; To the Thirsty World
Ruth Duck—Circles of Care
Listen to the accompaniments on those choir tapes. Some are really top-notch, e.g. "Guide My Feet, Lord" (Hope).
Always be listening at any musical performance for something you might want to use or adapt.
Take a summer class or workshop, e.g., Dan Damon's "Various Styles of Improvisation" at PSR.
Go to music conferences—network with other musicians.
Get some of those collections of Global Songs—GIA, Choristers Guild, others.
Try some different styles of accompanying from what you're used to—gospel, African-American spirituals, jazz/blues, classical European hymn tradition.
Try some improvising—stay within the chord, work on triads, practice scales in both major and minor keys; learn progressions from one key to another (see Michele Johns' book).
Weave similar hymns/songs together in medleys—African-American spirituals, gospel, traditional European hymns, children's songs, global songs, Taizé/other meditative music for gathering music, preludes, offertories, postludes.
Play variations/improvisations on hymn tunes:
Change from major to minor key signatures, e.g., Cym Rhondda (Guide Me, O My Great Redeemer), Ode to Joy (Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You)
Add eighth note variations
Play melody on pedals with clairon or other reed stop while harmonizing in the treble
Play with cluster chords
Use pedal point
Select a really challenging piece and work on it until you can play it. Give yourself a timeline