Playing Euphonium in ChurchLet me start by saying that you don't have to be a member of a church to benefit from the free lessons I discuss, although some of the lessons will have more impact on your music education with more exposure. In my case I had a gappy relationship with church. My parents, and later my older sister, took me to church regularly during my younger years. But around my 7th grade year that mostly stopped. My relationship with church started up again while I was in the early years of my Coast Guard career and has been regular since then.

It has only been recently that I realized the musical benefits of church attendance. Some of these lessons sneaked up on me! In most churches this education will be in the world of Western Music.


The first musical benefit I noticed was from playing my horn in church, and I have mentioned this several times on the forum. To some extent this benefit is for all present: the player, and for listeners in the congregation.

We all know that regular practice helps us learn and then perfect aspects of our playing. For example, when I realized that my chromatic scales were not sounding very clean, I added a few chromatics to my daily warm-up sequence. Son of a gun! After a while they started sounding better! Most people reading this probably know about that principle when applied to a technical skill. But to be a good musician you need to develop more than just technical skills, and some of this additional development does not come from your time in a practice room. Those additions include handling nerves, playing with musicality, projecting that musicality to the listener, and improving your "stage" presence.
Neither Be Nervous Nor Look Bored
stage presence
Many churches livestream their services. Most can be watched at a later time. That is an excellent opportunity for you to see how you look while playing and counting rests.

There are three key ingredients to controlling nerves. The first is to learn the music so well that you know you won't slip up! The second is to remember that you are playing the composer's music - try to understand what the composer wanted (tempered with your own musicianship...which the composer also wanted) and focus on that as you play. The third is to perform in front of people whenever you can. A church service gives you a natural chance to get more performance opportunities. In some ways the church service is ideal. People are already there in a good frame of mind. They are especially likely to appreciate your efforts even if something does not go just right.

One thing to keep in mind: some congregations do not typically clap after in-service music (prelude, offering, postlude). Don't let that throw you!


I often play along with hymns, usually playing melody on the first verse and then a counter-melody or descant on the last verse. Especially when playing with an organ, you have a great opportunity to practice playing a full-voice "lead" style. Really make the melody sing at a strong, controlled volume. The surrounding sounds of the organ and congregation help to encourage full-bodied playing. The focus should be on maintaining that volume while keeping the character of your sound smooth and voice-like. You can practice doing that in your practice room, but with the other participants and without the live acoustics you are likely to practice in the same way you will need to play. (This is similar to the type of playing you need for an in-band solo such as the one in Holst's Second Suite in F.)

Examples of Hymn-Descant BooksSee this page for links and examples of music for church, including hymn descants:

If a hymn comes up that is not in a book you own, you could try a trick I have used. Play the melody from the hymnal (see the tip below about transposition), but for a descant try playing the tenor part in a soloistic way. Some tenor lines make good counter melodies. You might want to add some ornaments or passing notes to spice it up a bit, and with experience in this situation you will get good at doing so on the fly.

Here is a video where I did just what I suggest above. The hymn was "Eternal Father" (the Coast Guard hymn and the Navy hymn). On the last verse I'm playing the tenor line. Funny thing...a member of the choir asked me where I found that neat descant!


Even if you don't fancy yourself much of a singer, you absolutely should sing along with the hymns when you are not playing! As you do so, pretend that you are on a mic singing for the whole congregation to hear. We have all heard singers who don't annunciate well, and sometimes we can't tell what words they are singing. Don't be one of those. Emphasize the appropriate words or syllables; finish any syllable fully before you take a breath; and make each syllable clear (again, pretend people are listening to you). That attention to detail will eventually carry over to your instrumental playing and will give it new life and gravitas.

You also needs to think about the words as you play a song that is well known, such as Danny Boy. Your phrases (note connection, separation, etc.) should make it easy for the listener to sing the words in their head. I once ignored the advice of a band director as I played Danny Boy. It was in the final phrase, which he suggested I phrase like:
Oh Danny Boy, Oh Danny Boy I [breath] love you so. (He obviously was thinking of something other than the words)
Instead, I phrased this way:
Oh Danny Boy, Oh Danny Boy [breath] I love you so.
The Ending of Danny Boy
Someone in the audience singing in their head would have stumbled mentally on the first example. One of my fondest memories is a comment from a little old lady after I played Endearing Young Charms. She said I had phrased it so that she could hear the words as I played.


If you have a voice high enough to fit into the alto part, learn to sing the harmony below the melody. Once you start to get the ability honed, you may find that you are learning a bit about harmonic support. The job of the alto is not to always be at exactly the same volume as the soprano - your volume may need to change as the line and harmonies move. You may also notice that, even if your voice perfectly matches the soprano, you may need to temper your tone color somewhat to make the harmony effect better.

For those with tenor-range voices, all the above applies.

With alto or tenor, some part of the line may need to be emphasized. For example, if the melody is sustaining a note and your part has a linear motion, you will want to bring it out a bit.

The bass line, for those with lower voices, has similar opportunities that come and go with the music. But the bass line itself may want a more constant presence because it is from the bass that chord structures are built. In popular and jazz music you may listen to, notice the bass line. It wouldn't be too hymn-like in most cases, but you may come to appreciate the energy it adds to the music.


I play a brass instrument. That means my horn has sets of bugle notes, which get closer together as the range gets higher. The easiest part within my own sight reading is during linear passages with no intervals of more than a 2nd or 3rd. If music in the middle range jumps up a 5th or so, there is no problem with putting down the right valve(s). But I have an "opportunity" to make an embarrassing sound if my lips don't set themselves for the center of the new note. I could actually play the next higher or lower bugle tone, or I could do a splat/clam.

During college sight singing class we learned some tricks to help us sing various intervals. A major 6th can be found in the first two notes of "The Days of Wine and Roses" or the old NBC chimes for example. It's reassuring to know such things, but it doesn't help much when you are in a totally different tonality when a major 6th shows up on the page.

As an instrumentalist, if you improve your sight singing skills, your will improve your sight reading accuracy on your instrument. You may also find your general playing accuracy improved as well.


It is useful in many ways if you are comfortable playing from concert pitch treble clef music (like the top two voice parts in a hymnal) by transposing mentally. In fact, it is necessary for some tips above. There may other impromptu opportunities that would require this same skill.

But suppose you do not yet (or often) have a chance to play your horn in church. You still have a beneficial way to practice transposing treble clef music! Several years ago I became frustrated with not being to sing (at sight) hymn melodies that I did not already know. I'm a very good sight reader on my horn, but of course my valves help me accurately play an interval I have not internalized yet.

So naturally my solution was to pretend I was playing my horn. I mentally transposed the notes up a whole step (and I would even subtly move my right hand fingers to match what I would do on my horn). This works partly because most of us have some level of "pitch memory." That is, we may not have perfect pitch, but we may be able to "remember" a note well enough to sing it. Try it yourself. Sing a tuning note (usually Bb concert, or C in treble clef), because you probably have heard that one by itself pretty often. If you have trouble at first, put your horn up near your mouth and try again. That proximity can help produce the right note.

By using this technique you may improve your treble clef transposition and your sight singing.


Accept Praise with GraceDoes this sound familiar to you?
After a solo performance, an audience member says "That was great!" You respond, "Thanks, but I was not at my best tonight. I got dry (or distracted, or the tempo was wrong, or...) and missed notes that I don't usually miss."

I worded this to be obvious, but in this example the listener said it was great and you said it was not. Some fans would just take that in stride, knowing what was going through your mind. Others might be offended. Either way, you should avoid this!

The correct answer starts with "Thank you." and then goes on to say something positive. Even if you felt bad about the performance, there are other things you can talk about that will still be an honest and positive response. "It is SO much fun to play before such a receptive audience." Or, "That's one of my favorite pieces to perform; it fits the horn so well." Or, "It is great that your community supports such a nice venue and that so many came to enjoy the music."

I did not graduate from college with this skill. It took me a while to realize that it was ungracious to point out my disappointment. It helped a little when I realized that I had heard performances by fine players that did not go perfectly. But I was still excited to hear the player and enjoyed their artistry. Can you relate to my experience?

Church audiences (congregations) are appreciative, as I mentioned above. This is a fine place to hone your skills as a gracious artist. As you do this, really try to listen and understand their point of view. You may not be a fantastic player yet, but you may be the best player they have heard; or you may have shown them the beautiful tone you have, despite a couple of flubs; or your musicianship may have made the performance very special to them.

There are a great many ways to appreciate a performance. Your personal concerns/disappointment may not have reduced their appreciation at all. The rest of the world does not see through your eyes or hear through your ears. Assume they complimented you sincerely and enjoy the fact that you touched someone's heart.


While participating in worship services offers you many benefits, you can also use some of the tips above in secular environments! There is simply too much to learn for us to not look for various ways to improve ourselves!


Here are some examples of hymn descants I have played. The first two are pre-service rehearsals to test them, so we just play a melody verse and the descant verse:

"We Are All One In Mission"

"Rise Up O Saints of God"

The next two are from live services, using the hymn/descant books you can find on the page linked above.

"When Morning Guilds the Skies"

"The Spirit Sends Us Forth to Serve"