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Is it harder to play hymns or classical music on the piano?

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July 16, 2015 6:08PM

Of course, one must ask "what hymn" vs. "what classical piece". There are many piano pieces that can be classified as classical that are perhaps even easier than some hymns. But your question is a general one, so I'll be general in my answer. IN GENERAL:

There is absolutely no question that the playing of classical piano pieces is more difficult than the playing of hymns. The typical hymn - taken from a standard hymnal - consists of four "voices" (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), and the hymn's playing usually consists of a succession of chords, sometimes with a bit more motion on the part of the soprano voice (which usually carries the melody).

A casual inspection of a classical piece of more than "beginner" difficulty will reveal a much different structure. With Chopin, for instance, one finds difficult runs, horrendous stretches and fingering. In Bach, one might find a fugue with five different melodies interweaving at the same time.

Hymn-playing is a good exercise in sight-reading for the classical pianist, and a trained classical pianist can play any hymn on sight with ease. The opposite is not true. The experienced hymn-player without classical training will be hard pressed to play any but the most easy classical piece. And there are few classical pieces for piano beyond "beginner" level that can be played on sight, but rather must be practiced and labored over many times before perfection can be reached.

Jerre Conder

Thats not really an answerable question, some people have the natural gift, like if you were to ask me if it was hard to play drums, i would say no its very easy, but if you were to ask someone who DOESNT play them, they would probably say its hard.. it could be easier for some people and harder for others..

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Both answers above have more than a little merit. My own experience may add a perspective. I played classical piano for years (at a strong intermediate to advanced level) before I found myself having to play hymns from a standard hymnal. At first, the characteristic rhythms of some of them were foreign and a little tricky. I got to the point where I could play the voices "as notated" reasonably well. But others in the congregation can sit down, and effortlessly and spontaneously "orchestrate" any hymn (improvise) using the "notes" only as a creative guide. That is a skill that is utterly beyond me, short of giving away all of my music scores and devoting serious time and effort to learning some new skills. I'm not about to do that.

With hymns, they are easier to play on the organ than the piano, due to the pedals on the organ.

It depends on the music and how easily it is written. I can play the piano and I personally think that hymns are easier as they mainly have chords.

Speaking as a professional organist who has played in church for over 48 years, hymn playing is an art in itself. Sure, when you are alone and practicing, it's easy to hold to the tempo ... but add 300 people singing, and it becomes a chore to hold your initial tempo. One has to listen to both yourself and the congregation so as not to get too far ahead, but if you follow them, you will soon be slower than molasses and eventually go right down the drain.

There are "Tricks" that organists can employ to make the congregation speed up tempo ... one thing that I use when this happens is to add leading and following notes to the chords - hard to explain in words - but hearing the "movement" between the block chord of the hymn, helps the congregation keep to your tempo.

Takes practice ... practice over many years to develop this technique, but once learned, it almost becomes automatic.