Gospel Music Lesson of The Week – Incorporating Jazz Licks

This week’s gospel music lesson is a spin off of the last blog post.  It’s about how to incorporate jazz licks into gospel music. Hope you enjoy it and can apply it to your music right away!

Gospel Music Lesson of the Week – Expanding Dominant Chords

This weeks gospel music lesson was a real pleasure to put together.  It is how to take a dominant chord and explore different sounds and possibilities with the chord.  Enjoy and pass along to a musician friend.  Also make sure to check out the HMPI Store for additional resources and to get yourself ready to perform for mom on Mother’s Day.

Gospel Music Lesson of The Week


This lesson is on how to play simple chords that are suitable for high praise moments. I did this lesson with the beginner to intermediate player in mind. This progression is very simple but the beauty of it is that you can easily play this in any key when ever you need or want to.


Gospel Piano and Organ Chord Voicings


One thing that I love to hear when listening to an organist or pianist is when the musician really knows how to voice their chords.

A chord voicing is referring to how you arrange the notes within a particular chord. For example I can play a C major chord several different ways.

right hand    CEG

left hand        C


right hand    E C

left hand     C  G


right hand    GCG

left hand      CGE

There are so many different ways you can voice a particular chord.  Here are a few tips to follow when you are trying to figure out how to voice a particular chord.


  • Know or identify what specific notes make up a particular chord

For example a C major chord is comprised of 3 notes which are C, E and G

Now I know that C, E, and G are the notes that I have to work with. Now I will try to arrange these 3 notes to get the best possible sound.

I can use a particular note of the chord only once in my chord voicing.  I can also use a particular note of the chord more than once in my chord voicing. Let your ear be the judge of what is the best chord voicing


  • Look for the sweet spot

Take the notes that make up a particular chord and try to arrange them so that they sound just right.

You don’t want your notes to be too low (played to far to the left) which will make your chords sound muddy or cloudy. You also don’t want to play the chord too high (played too far to the right) which will make the chord sound thin.

You want to find what I call the sweet spot, which is the ideal place on the keyboard for the chord that you are playing. Sometimes a combination of high and low works well. Sometimes a very close voicing works well. (Where the notes a very close to each other)

Sometimes an open voicing works well. (Where the notes have larger spaces in between them)

Experimentation is the key!!! You will be surprised at the great things you can find from just experimenting with different chord arrangements.

  • Use Voice Leading

One thing that makes your chords sound good is good voice leading. Voice leading is how smooth the particular notes within a chord move to the notes in the very next chord.

You don’t want to jump around a lot when playing your chords.  Many times the notes within a particular chord don’t have to move more than a half step, whole step, or a third. This gives you a flowing and connected sound when you play your chord progressions. This sounds pleasing to the ear.  When you move from one chord to the next some of the notes may stay the same. Some may go up and some may go down. This is voice leading. The notes of your chords are the voices and you want them to move smoothly to the next notes of the chords.

I also like to think that the notes in my chord are like individual people singing in a choir. When someone is singing in the choir, the notes that the person sings does not have huge jumps and spaces in them. (Jumping from a really high note to a really low note)

That would sound unnatural and would be difficult to sing. Think of your fingers like little singers and you want each finger to move easily and smoothly from one note to the next note within a chord progression.

These are just 3 tips to think about when voicing your chords. I would love to hear your comments. Please let me know if you have any questions or want me to go into greater detail in any of the above mentioned tips.


Gospel Music Lesson of the Week – Pedal Points

This week’s is on Pedal Points and how to play a series of chords with only one bass note.  Enjoy and please pass along to a friend.

“The Little Things That Are Not So Little”

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with and play with all kinds of musicians and musical artists. I have been blessed to play with some of the best musicians anywhere. After awhile you start to see commonalities among musicians that are very successful. Also people consistently call upon these kind of musicians because they enjoy working with them.

These are things that I have noticed about very successful musicians.


1) They arrive early for engagements and performances

2) They come prepared knowing the music and ready to play

3) They have positive attitudes with those whom they are working with

4) They don’t allow their egos to get the best of them (They can easily follow directions)

5) They leave their personal feelings out of the music and they don’t allow their feelings to affect the way that they play.

Everyone wants to be successful in what they do and musicians practice for years to develop their skills to get to a certain point in their playing.

Always keep in mind that only 50% of your success is how well you can play. The other 50% consists of much of what I mentioned above. The LITTLE THINGS – That really are not so little.

By all means PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Practice is necessary to succeed. It is no getting around it. You have to practice. Developing yourself musically is essential for success but don’t neglect the LITTLE THINGS.

It is quite possible that your talent can open doors for you that your character can’t keep you in.

Be the total package and succeed as the kind of musician that you have always wanted to be and that people love to work with.


Leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue

Lesson of The Week – Overcoming Key Changes

I would encourage you to take this key changing technique and try to apply it to all 12 keys. It is good to think about the number and type of chord that you are playing in songs. The 2 most important things you must be able to do in order to effectively use this technique is to know all 12 major scales and know your basic chords. These are very fundamental skills that will in the end make a huge difference in your playing. It really does take the frustration and anxiety out of playing in every key evenly.

Key Change Exercise Song

Click Below To Hear The Song

If you like this lesson then don’t be shy. Help us spread the free lessons. Share with a friend.



Playing Chords With Flavor

We all love to hear rich and full sounding chords when people play. It seems like some guys know just what to play, and how to play to really play with a lot of flavor.

Here are a few tips that I use to add more flavor to my chords. 

  • Find The Sweet Spot

I look for the place on the piano or organ that is the optimum place for  a particular chord. Doing something as simple as moving a chord up or down an octave can dramatically enhance the sound of a chord that you are playing.  I look for the place or area on the keyboard where the chord is not too high, or too low but rather just right.  If you play your chords too far to the left your chords can start to sound muddy and if you play your chords too far to the right they can start to sound thin. I love for chords to sound rich, full, clear,

  • Try Different Chord Inversions

Experimenting with chord inversions is another way to really enhance the sound of your chords. An inversion of a chord is to change the position of the notes of the chords while still playing the same note names.


The notes are the same but you change the arrangement or position of those particular notes.

A good rule of thumb is that how ever many different notes you have in a particular chord, then that is at least how many different positions that you can play that particular chord.

  • Adding Notes To Chord

Another effective thing to do in order to really add more flavor to your chords are to add additional notes to your chords.

For example: If I am playing a C major chord which are the notes C -E -G.

I love to add the second scale degree of the chord to add a bit of flavor to the chord.



C  is the root or 1st scale degree

E is the 3rd scale degree

G is the 5th scale degree

The second scale degree for the C major chord is the note D.

So I would play:


Adding the 2nd scale degree is an easy way to add flavor to most chords (not every chord)

The 6th scale degree is another note that works well in adding notes to chords (not every chord)

Experimentation is really the best way to discover what works and what does not.

  • Study Other Musicians

I have learned so many wonderful and flavorful chords from other musicians. I am a big advocate for studying great musicians. Learn what they do and how they do it.

This is not to try to copy the person but rather learn how they think about playing. You can learn the concepts that they are using and can apply those concepts and come up with your own unique approach to it yourself.  Or if you really love how they play then copy them. It will be okay. lol But in the process look for your own style and voice when you play.

If you like this post please share it with a friend.



HMPI Lesson of the Week – Reharmonization and Counter Melodies

For this week’s lesson I decided to do a brief demonstration of a song reharmonization and adding counter melodies to a song. This is something I love to do and you certainly grab people’s attention when you reharmonize familiar songs and melodies.  As with anything this has to be done with discretion and tastefully.  However, it’s great to keep things fresh musically and to keep raising the bar for creativity.

Reharmonization for me is centered around the melody. In a nutshell you keep the melody notes prominent and at the top of the chords. This helps people to hear where you are in the song. It goes with out saying that in order to do this that one should already be able to play quite a few chords in several different keys.

Now lets take chords that we already know and maybe discover some new ones along the way and weave together a creative chord progression that allows the melody notes to be the top notes of the chords. It can be challenging to reharmonize certain songs but it is a  fun challenge.

  • Look for progressions that sound natural

I really love to hear musicians that can play in a very creative way but it still sounds musical. Sometimes musicians can get so caught up into doing something innovative and new that it is easy for the music to become non musical or doesn’t really make sense to the listener. Always keep your listeners in mind. Will your listeners be able to follow your reharmonization or will they still be able to  make out what the song is. These are things to consider when coming up with your own  reharmonization.

  • Go back to home base from time to time

It is important when you are playing a familiar melody or song to go back to the standard progressions within the song sometimes. In a sense it helps the listener reset their ears to the song you are playing. You don’t won’t to stay out in left field the whole time, come back to the regular way of playing at the right times and go then go back to something new and different. It is all about being tasteful. It is possible to have too much of a good thing.

  • Use Modulations to get out and back in

Sometimes you may find yourself stuck and can’t figure out how to reharmonize a certain part of the song. In that instance, allow the melody note to stay the same but play chords that are in a different key. This will really make people listen. You have to be careful how you do this but it is a great technique  to use.

My last tip is learn more songs. The more songs you learn the more chord progressions you will learn and you will be better equipped to come up with your own unique chord progressions.

Have fun and be creative. There are no rules. Discover something great!


If you like this lesson please comment and share it with a musician friend.

Pick a Key!

There were several people that responded to a previous post that I posted a while back. The subject of the post was Music is Mathematical. I decided to expound on the subject a little more. If you have any of my training videos you know that I advocate learning all 12 of your major scales fluently. The reason I advocate them so strongly is because knowing the scales can really open up some great possibilities for you.

I will give you an example of one way of many that it can help you. Recently, I was asked to play for a funeral of a young man that passed away. I agreed to play for it but there was no rehearsal for the musical selections in the funeral.  Unfortunately, we had to wing it. I was told what songs were going to be sung but I didn’t know how the singers wanted to do the songs nor did I know what key they wanted to sing the songs in.

This is the problem. I could have easily learned to play the songs in the original keys but what if the original keys were either to high or low for the singers. Musicians have to be flexible. If the song has notes in it that are too high for the singer to hit then you might have to lower the key of the song to something that is more comfortable. If you play for a church or ministries you may have to do things like that and if you don’t you still should know how to.

I knew that we would not  have a rehearsal so I decided to chart the songs using the number system. The way that I do it is, I write down what number or scale degree the particular chord falls on and then I write beside it what type of chord it is (major, minor, suspended, etc.)

Please excuse my chicken scratch but it works for me. lol

Approaching it like this will make the key of the song not even matter. However, you must know all 12 major scales with the  corresponding scale degree or number that goes to each note of the scale.  For example the F major scale is F -G-A-Bb-C-D-E

  • F is the first note of the scale so F is number 1.
  • D is the sixth note of the scale so D is number 6
  • G is the second note of the scale so G is number 2

When you know all 12 major scales and what number goes to each note in each scale then you can easily do this.

If you are playing a particular song in the key of F and the chord progression in the song is Fmaj –   Dmin7 –  G7  – Csus7

You can now plug in the numbers for each chord. It would be this.

(1)maj – (6)min7-(2)7- (5)sus7

Now you can take the numbered chords and apply that to ANY key that you want, IF you know all of your major scales and know your basic chords. Check of this video of an easy way to play your basic chords in every key. This video comes from the Learn To Play In All 12 Keys DVD Course.

Like I mentioned earlier I played for a funeral of a young man that passed away. There where hundreds and hundreds of people there. I didn’t want the musical selections to be a flop so I did what I needed to do to adjust to the singers and not the singers having to adjust to me.

Everything went over very well but I attribute it to knowing my scales and chords and having the knowledge of applying the number system to my playing.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this or hear any questions that you might have. Also, if you have found this post to be helpful then share it with a friend via facbook, twitter or email. Thanks



Tips From a Grammy Nominee

This weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and work with Grammy Nominated John Stoddart. John is an awesome pianist and vocalist along with being a great guy.

He travels extensively with Kirk Whalum as the main keyboardist in his band. He has also been nominated for a Grammy award for his own solo recording projects.

John gave a few tips on piano playing. In particular he talked about how to develop solid playing technique. He talked about using gravity to assist your fingers in producing a good piano tone. He demonstrated that when you walk, the weight of your body is shifted from one leg to the other. He explained, the hands and fingers work similar to that when playing the piano.  He said that you produce certain kinds of sounds on the piano with the power from your back.

Finally, he suggested to practice technical passages slowly and concentrate on the tone you are producing with each individual note.  Once you are producing a great tone with each note of the passage gradually increase the speed.

John is another example of a musician that has studied various styles of music and his style has been influenced by his diverse training and study.  I talked about the importance of studying the type of music that you want to sound like in your playing in my “What Flavor Do You Like” post.

John very impressively played a classical piece of music by Chopin entitled “Revolutionary”. This is a recording of Chopin’s Revolutionary.

I believe it is so important to consistently study your craft and  practice. Your best musicians will be individuals that seriously study what they do and practice on applying those principles. The key to becoming a better musician is studying and practicing your music.

What’s Your Role?


As a musician, it is very important to understand what your particular role is in a band. Your role can change depending on the song, the situation, or even just what is preferred by who you are playing for.  There are times to be very intense in your playing and there are other times to play very basic. You have to know the difference between the two. That means it is quite possible to have more skills musically speaking than is necessary for a particular song. Your best players will be individuals that know what is appropriate to play, and are disciplined in their playing. They will not over play or even under play. As you mature as a musician you learn to be a team player. I love to think of a band as one big unit. In a band situation what you do affects everybody else.  Where there is unity there is strength. Everyone has a role and a important function to play within a band unit.

You must be sensitive to what is going on around you and how what you are doing is affecting everyone else in the band. When I play with other musicians I try to be sensitive to the moment. I ask myself, “will this chord, lick, movement, etc. add to the song and band as a whole or take something away.

It is very important to be conscious of:

  • Your Volume
  • Gelling With The Other Band Members
  • Playing too much or too little
  • Playing with the appropriate sound and style

The other night, I played for a concert at a local venue in my city. The situation was me on keyboard, bass guitar, lead guitar, drums, background vocals, and lead vocal. Here is just a little of footage of us just having a little fun before the concert during the sound check just to check the volume levels. We were just having fun with this. It was really interesting playing and holding a camera at the same time. LOL. However, when the concert started we had to put on our professional hats.


Throughout the entire concert I had to change my sounds to fit the songs that we where playing. Sometimes I used a basic acoustic piano sound, other times a fender rhodes piano sound, other times piano and strings etc. I also had to monitor my volume to make sure that I was not to loud or soft. Also, I was playing with a lead guitarist and had to make sure the we were playing the same chords. Some songs I took the lead and dominant role musically and other songs I played very basic and subdued all the while still supporting the lead vocalist and not overshadowing him.

Really good musicians are sensitive to all of these things. Many times you have to really think about these things a lot in the beginning but after awhile of developing good musicianship habits they seem to become second nature. When you get to that point then you will be the type of musician that other musicians love to play with and singers love playing for them.

Your playing chops and skills are very important but it is not just your skills that will cause you to be really successful as a musician. It is also knowing what your role is as a musician and how to appropriately use the skills that you have.

I would love to hear about your experiences and thoughts concerning this.


Minor Scales – Free Lesson

Thank you for subscribing to free lessons from HMPI. Enjoy your first video and stay tuned for me. If you like what you see please share with your friends on facebook and twitter.

How Great Thou Art – Organ Lesson

Thank you for signing up for your free lessons from HMPI. Enjoy and if you like it please share with your friends on facebook and twitter.

Playing In EVERY Key

Many musicians find it difficult to play in EVERY key. For example a musician may feel comfortable in playing in the key of Ab but will avoid the key of A natural at all cost. A musician may sound really good playing in the key of F but will feel completely lost when playing in the key of E.

How is it that a musician can sound like a master in one key but get paranoid and sound like a beginner in another?

Why is this the case? I would like to give you 3 basic factors that could possibly contribute to this problem.

  • The Way You Are Practicing
  • The Way You Are Thinking
  • The Songs That You Are Learning



The way that you practice is so very vital. Quite naturally if you never play in a particular key then how will you ever learn to effectively play in that key. I love to practice things in perfect 4ths and perfect 5ths. This is also called the circle of 4ths and the circle of 5ths.

The circle of 4ths consist of

C -F -Bb- Eb- Ab- Db- Gb- B- E- A- D- G

The circle of 5ths consist of

C- G- D- A- E- B- Gb- Db- Ab- Eb- Bb- F


For example you can take a new lick or run that you are learning and practice it in every key using the circle of 4ths or 5ths.

For example using the circle of 4ths would be to play the new lick in the key of C then play it in the key of F then play it in the key of Bb and so on until you can play it in all 12 keys.

You can apply this practicing technique to anything you want to learn. Songs, Licks, Chords, Progressions, Etc.

Practicing this way will cause you to be able to play in any key whatever you are practicing on evenly.

The way you are thinking makes a huge difference as well. I believe that it is very helpful to think of the scale degree (scale number ) of the notes that you are playing.  REFER TO THE BLOG POST Music Is Mathematical.

Finally, many times gospel songs are traditionally done in certain keys. If you only play in the keys that the majority of gospel songs are written in then you could possibly be limited in playing in every key.  I think it is a great challenge to take a song that you know well and play it in all 12 keys. This is a good challenge for yourself.  Make using transpose a thing of the past and learn to play in EVERY key.

For a more detailed understanding of how to play effectively in all 12 keys you can check out my DVD “Learn To Play In All 12 Keys” 



Welcome to the HMPI Blog!

Hey, Kenneth Hollins here.  I’m excited to begin a dialogue with you and look forward to this new platform. After playing for 30 years, and teaching for 15, I’ve learned some important lessons along the way.  God has given me the gift of music and I want to share what I’ve been given.  The purpose of this blog is to serve as a resource to you as you develop as a gospel musician. I will provide an inside peek at what I do on a day to day basis and share what I feel are key lessons.

My plan is to bring to you guest interviews with top musicians and artists in the industry. I will be sharing key attitudes and philosophies that are important to have. From time to time, I will be sharing with you some free lessons and other resources for you to utilize.

HMPI has come a long way over the years and I’m excited to see the continued development. The new website is an important step in allowing us to realize our vision of being the largest, most respected, and widely recognized gospel music instruction resource in the world.  Thank you for choosing to be on this journey with us.

My subscription based blog MyKeyBoardConnection is also available and is meant to offer specific training, videos, and lessons. You can join me, along with your peers, in this special member’s only website.

Please make a comment introducing yourself and come back often to receive updates. I’d like to hear from you about new products that you would like us to develop in the coming months.  Please share your questions and ideas about what you’d like me to cover in the blog too!

Thanks again and together we can take gospel music to new heights!

5 Keys to Learning Songs By Ear

Here are 5 tips to playing songs by ear.

1.  Determine the key of the song.  The key of the song is the main note of the song.  In a sense it is home base.  This is something that you have to hear for yourself to understand. As you listen to a song and someone plays the particular key note of the song you can hear that it is the main note of the song.  I figured the key of the song out by starting on C and moving up the keyboard in half steps slowly not skipping any notes until I found the note that sounded like the main key of the song. The more you do this the better and quicker you get at it.

2.  Listen to the bass guitar or bass line.  Now I understand that it was good to find the key first because most songs bass notes generally found in the scale of the key of the song.

What I mean is if you figure out that a song is in the key of C, many times (not all the time), the bass notes will be notes that are found in the C major scale which are C D E F G A B. This helps your chances of finding the correct bass notes. Of course, sometimes you’ll have notes that are outside of the scale being played but the majority of the notes will probably fall within the notes that are in the scale.

That’s why it’s good early on in your development to learn your major and minor scales in every key (all 12 keys).  It will make it easier to learn songs by ear if you know your scales.  If the song is in a major key you use notes of the major scale and if it is a minor key you use the notes of the minor scale.

3.  Listen to the choir in the song and what notes that they where singing.  I didn’t know it back then but most choir songs are arranged with the choir singing the main harmony to the songs. In other words, the choir notes can give you a pretty good cue of what the chord is that goes with the bass note. (I think BASIC choir songs are a good starting place for learning to play by ear.  (Not Tye Tribbet LOL)

Most basic gospel choir songs played on the radio are arranged in 3 part harmony for the choir to sing. (Soprano, Alto, and Tenor) I would listen to what the sopranos were singing and try to play it on my keyboard.  I tried to play the exact notes that they sang. I had to keep rewinding and listen very closely.  It’s almost like you have to tune everything else out and just focus on that one part.  Then do same thing for the tenor part.

So now I had the outline of the chord and the bass note. When I played it together it started sounding kind of like the song.  YEAH! If I could hear it, I would try to plug in the alto note as well.

You can get pretty far with just doing these things.  But you should keep going.

4.  Listen for riffs and licks.  Most songs have licks and riffs in them.  What I mean is most songs have licks that you will hear played by horns, guitars, strings, or whatever.  Figure out these licks within the song.  This will give you more to play than just the choir parts and bass lines.

Putting all of this together makes the song start to sound like the song.

5.  Start listening for the piano and what’s being played other than the choir harmony.  What I mean is the piano would play more than the harmony that the choir sang.  I call those fill in chords.  Chords that are not sang by the choir but are important chords to the song.  Now this is a little more advanced to figure this out but you can.

The way I did it was to get people to write out chords for various songs.  Over time, I learned a lot of songs and my chord vocabulary got bigger.  I knew various chords because I learned the songs that were written out for me.

I remember noticing that many of the gospel songs shared the same kind of chords and progressions (including fill-in chords).  For example, one song may have a particular chord progressions and another would have the same progression just maybe a little different.

You will soon realize that most gospel songs are similar to other gospel songs and many of the chords are the same for different songs just rearranged differently.

As you keep learning songs by ear, and from other people (chord charts), you start to remember what particular chord progressions sound like.  It’s just like when you where a child and you saw the color red for the first time.  You probably didn’t know the name of the color.  You kept seeing the color red and you learned the name of it.  Now it’s a part of you. When you see something that is red, you without even thinking about, know that it is red. So my point is likewise with music. The more songs you learn by ear, sheet music, chord charts or someone showing you will start to remember the sound of certain chords and progressions that happen a lot in gospel songs.

So when you hear them in another song you say, “oh yeah that sounds like the song I learned.”  It probably has similar chords.

Remember we were talking about how to figure out fill-in chords.

To make a long story short, you try different chords that you know to see if it sounds right for the fill in chords.

That’s basically it starting off.

Your ear is like a muscle and the more you do this the stronger and keener your musical hearing will become.  Your ability to hear the fine and subtle details of the music will increase with time and practice.

My first song took me about 2 weeks to learn to play.  And it really didn’t  sound like the actual song.  I kept trying to learn songs and it developed my ear.

Now I can be in the car and hear a song on the radio for the first time. When I get to my destination, if there is a piano there I can sit down and play it pretty accurately.

It’s a process but if you stick with it you will get better.