Julie Foster

Pianist for God

My journey at the piano began when I was 5 or 6. My mom, a woman with the patience of Job, was my capable teacher. Despite consistent weekly practice, I struggled to read and understand notes.

While still being instructed in sight reading into my teens, I began desiring to play church music.

My mom bought me an instructional book of hymns and began teaching me how to play those songs by note. As I was able, my mom also began teaching me how to add chords.

Still, I struggled. I couldn’t hear when to change chords, let alone hear which chord to progress to.

One night at church, I distinctly remember the Lord whispering to my heart that He was going to use my piano playing for His glory. This was unbelievable as well as terrifying! But I tucked that memo in my heart and when on timidly developing my fledgling talent.

When I was 17, I was encouraged by my pastoring parents to play the piano for altar services at our small church. This was a huge step for me. But a step in the right direction.

By this point, I was probably at a level 3 in my sheet music, though there were a lot of theory concepts that I simply didn’t grasp.

A couple years later, I went to Bible College, still paranoid to play piano in public. I avoided any circumstance that would provide me opportunity to demonstrate how incapable I was at the piano.

My hiding didn’t last very long. There was a need for piano players, and a lot of people who saw the potential in we students.

Slowly, I began to step into the role of a church pianist. It was a painful process that caused me to face my pride as well as my fear.

The student demographics provided diversity in music styles, something I learned to take advantage of. I became a student of the piano-playing students. I asked a lot of questions and picked up some tricks and licks. My own style began to broaden.

Slowly, my ear was developing.

By my Junior year in college, I was the pianist for the small group nursing home ministry I was a part of, as well as one of the pianists for the traveling outreach group.

It was there at Bible College that my thirst for music theory was whetted.

During this time, I was asked by a couple students to teach them how to play piano by ear. I was at a loss as to where to start. I had no materials. No how-to-learn-church-music-by-ear lesson plans. Attempting to reduce music theory to paper in a teachable way challenged me greatly. I gave a few lessons here and there.

After graduating with my Bachelor’s in Biblical Literature, I went to live with my parents who were now assistant pastors in a church in South Texas. It wasn’t long before I was recruited to be church pianist. And so it was that I received informal training by the pastor, an incredibly gifted musician and singer. He played the organ and assigned me to the piano or keyboard for church worship and altar services. He played chords I’d never heard and played in keys I’d never tried. But he challenged me. I can count on one hand the times he sat down at the piano and critiqued or instructed me. But he saw potential and gave me opportunity to grow beside him.

All along the way there were others from whom I gleaned precious insights – progressions, off chords, bits of theory, new songs. I could never claim to be a self-made pianist.

In 2011, I had the privilege of becoming a piano teacher to my niece, whose mother wanted her to learn to sight read as well as play church music by ear.

As time went on, I was blessed with several more students. It was during this time that the seed of teaching church music by ear began to grow into fruition.

After countless hours of studying and research, I began to create piano-by-ear instructional books based on practical music theory.  Many years and ten books later, The Church Musician’s Piano by Ear Course was completed in the Spring of 2019. 

I continue to teach a diverse lot of students, mostly aspiring church pianists, from my home in Oklahoma.

It is a tremendous joy to know that many of my students, and former students, are ministering in music across the United States.