Ambience | A New Role For Guitar in Worship

I’m a huge fan of ambient textures and their use in post rock, progressive, & experimental genres.  I’ve found that these textures are functional in worship; however, the content of the ambience can’t be the same.

English: Close-up of the Transducer inside a S...

English: Close-up of the Transducer inside a Spring Reverb Tank. Català: Detall del Transductor a un contenidor de Reverberació de molles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When using a guitar ambience, or any effect during worship, you don’t want the focus to be on you or your crafty sound, but rather the prayer, meditation, or sermon you’re augmenting. The ambience serves as a foundation & often a transition point for worship no matter where it occurs in the service.

In this setting, to not take any glory away from the Holy Spirit – I keep my ambience settings to not much more than reverb & delay in conjunction with a volume pedal. In my settings below, you’ll notice I do use a mod delay as well as a light, slow oscillating, phaser; however, it’s barely noticeable in the video clip below.

Here is a sum of the settings I use to achieve this effect.

  • Light Crunch – About 11 o’clock on Drive & Bass, Mid & Treble at 12 o’clock
  • Spring Reverb – 100% mix, 80% decay, pre-delay about 150ms
  • Analog Chorus – Speed about 0 or 1 (an extremely low setting), 70% deep, about 50% mix
  • Analog Delay + Mod about 670ms decay, feed back about 80% (definitely keep high), mod setting (if available) very low 0 or 1, 75% depth, mix 80%
  • Reverb (not totally necessary) – 0 pre-delay, decay – 50%, mix – 42%

All the above used in conjunction of a Volume Pedal

Distortion in Worship | Crafting that Perfect Guitar Tone

Hitting that distortion button may be tricky business if you’re afraid it may be ‘too heavy’ or

Description unavailable

Description unavailable (Photo credit: dominic bartolini)

‘too loud’ for your congregation; especially playing in a band that is highly improvisatory & dependent on the Holy Spirit. Here are some things I try to develop in my guitar tone to best suit the needs of the band & congregation.

  • Clarity – Can you distinguish all 6 strings in a bar chord? If not, your distortion may be either too heavy, grainy, or saturated. Get it to that point where it sounds clear & resonant at the hardest you’ll be playing.
  • Sustain – How well do your single notes carry? In other words, how long does the note last after you’ve picked it and you’re still depressing the string to the neck? If you have trouble keeping your gain/distortion low enough for clarity, yet maintaining a decent sustain, try pairing your distortion with a good-sounding reverb or tape-delay.
  • Warmth – As a preference – I like warm guitar tones better – and it will vary between your amp + whatever effects/distortion you’re using. Be aware of those ‘low,’ ‘mid,’ and ‘high’ knobs; they do work in crafting the tone that suits your needs.
  • Versatility For getting the most out of a distortion – I like to use velocity as a variable. Velocity is more of a synthesizer/midi term meaning how hard you attack/pick/articulate the note. In this instance, playing with more velocity will create a heavier distortion & less velocity will yield a cleaner sound (less distortion)  I feel having this characteristic in a distortion to be favorable because of the following;      1). I’m not pressing so many stomp boxes for every song section.                                2). I can easily adapt to the improvisation & fluctuation of dynamics during worship just by changing how hard I’m playing.                                                                        3). I can focus on changing effects (chorus, delay, phaser) for subtle changes instead of the abrupt & sometimes awkward & unfitting heavy/soft distortion.
  • Buzzless – Stay away from distortion units/effects that cause a buzz whenever you
    SWR BASS 350 RedFace

    SWR BASS 350 RedFace (Photo credit: jovino)

    stop playing. There’s no better way to sound like an amateur or distract others from worship than with an annoying buzz. Also, in regards to this – other causes of such buzz may be your amplifier, pickups, occasionally bad cables, and even cellphones (a la, Blackberry often causes radio interference near cables, amps, & other audio equipment).

In terms of what distortions I really enjoy, check out the below couple of links for some really good & favorable examples.

Jesus Culture – Rooftops

Michael Ketterer – You’re Beautiful

10 Guitar Effects & Tricks to Augment Your Worship Service

Mastro EBow

Mastro EBow (Photo credit: pmonaghan)

Over the years of playing guitar for worship services/bands, I’ve come across a number of effects and techniques that I’ve incorporated into worship that have proven very effective musically. If you play guitar for your church, even if it’s acoustic, you’re sure to find some goodies here!

  1. Looping – I am the biggest advocate of incorporating this into a guitarist’s repertoire. Loops machines are especially useful with how repetitive the chord progressions are in worship music, it’s super effective to build upon yourself, especially if you’re part of a smaller worship band. But, you have to be tight & stay on that beat!
  2. Phaser – While you shouldn’t turn it completely up in your mix OR make it oscillate  too fast, it’s a great way to change the dynamic between a verse and bridge. Personally, I put it at about 50% mix and have it move just above the slowest setting to kinda get that HP (high pass) filter swirly effect.
  3. Say…Wah – The Wah Pedal can be so cliche sometimes BUT, if you use it to simply  to change the filter without pushing the pedal up & down so often – it offers a great texture change, especially in combination with a delay. Zakk Wylde has been known to keep the wah completely forward to give his solos more presence.
  4. Swell – There are single effect units that accomplish this, but I’ve found using a delay & a volume pedal (or even your volume knobs) works great. This is great during response times while the pastor is still speaking or even above a slow but solid bass & drum foundation.
  5. Tremelo like a Rhodes – If you’ve ever heard a Rhodes Piano using tremelo, you know what I’m talking about. It’s very easy to make a clean guitar sound like this using a Bias tremelo effect. – Probably one of the most unique & accessible things you can do to help bring people to the intimate place in worship. – Here’s an audio reference of a Rhodes – ‘Portishead – “Roads
  6. Harmony – One of two ways you can do this. Harmony FX are manufactured as single pedals and are even part of multi-fx pedals like my POD HD300. You can change the key and should be able to seamlessly perform melodies with automated 3rds, 4ths, octaves..whatever.  Another way to do is – refer back to #1 –   Play a melody – loop – play its harmony & booyah!
  7. E-Bow – A wonderful invention. Period. The E-Bow is a device you use, almost like a pick; however, only above the strings over the pickups to create a controlled-feedback of sorts. The result is almost like a synthesized string sound. Indeed, it’s a cool tool for the guitarist seeking a wider palette. Here’s a video reference – Phil Keaggy – Amazing Grace
  8. Sonar Style Delay – It’s hard for us guitarist to simplify things sometimes… perhaps only playing one note every 2 measures? Achhh-  BUT it’s effective, especially using a delay that’s in sync with the tempo. Minimalism has its advantages – and gives you a lot of room to grow. Check out the use of the single note delay used above the band’s texture in Hillsong Live’s – Love Like Fire
  9. Octave Displacement – What? Oh, A Whammy Pedal – Very similar to a wah pedal in its physical feel, it controls pitch. Oftentimes, the pedal/effect will allow you to choose the range, such as octaves, 5ths, sub-octave. It isn’t all that practical for chords, but it sings so well and is a game changer for single-note melodies and solos!
  10. Slide it! – I most certainly don’t hear enough guitarists implement this into their playing, and you don’t have to play country or blues to appreciate it. What other way can you totally negate the fact that you have frets? That’s a huge texture change & it can be implemented with any number of effects. In fact, John Mark McMillan’s ‘How He Loves‘ often features a slide.

Do you have effects or techniques you use to switch things up in praise of the King? Even if it isn’t for guitarists explicitly, Don’t forget to share it!

5 Tips to Make Your Worship Band Awesome Without Being a Virtuoso

1. Record Yourselves!

Audio levels shown on a Zoom H4n while recordi...

Audio levels shown on a Zoom H4n while recording Deutsch: Lautstärkeanzeige des Zoom H4n bei der Tonaufnahme (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That which is most painful will be most effective. The audio recorder doesn’t lie. You’ll hear

the tempo shift, missed notes, things musically that you think work..but actually don’t. It’s all there. Set an audio recorder in the front row (discreetly on a pew if you wanted) or even plugged into the mixing board. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but this will help you identify and fix numerous problems.

2. Rehearse! …

And not just before church either. Things need time to sink in; sleep on it and come back. And while everyone in the worship band has day jobs, it can be tough to schedule an evening once a week. But don’t forget, this is for the King of Kings! It’s a tithe of time, and not even 10% of your week!

3. Worship Bands Have Layers!

The praise and worship band is the symphony orchestra of the protestant church. Only at the climax of a composition should the whole orchestra be playing. And while that’s not completely true for the worship band, still the point is to know when and when not to play. Just because you have 7, 23, or 2 members, doesn’t mean you should be playing at the same time. Also; Playing something simple is often more effective than a flurry of notes (that’s you, guitar players!) Listen to what’s going on around you and play accordingly. …which brings me to my next point…

4. Where’s the Climax?

My composition professor would always ask this whenever I brought in a new composition for review “Where’s the climax…circle it!”As a band, identify where the climax of each song is and what each of you are playing at that point. From there, you can decide what and what not to play | who will and will not be playing when? Listen to some of your favorite songs.. ask yourself “Where is the climax?” You’ll be surprised with what you find. When you’re able to dynamically and instrumentally shape a song as a band, then will you sound tight and together; you will see the congregation respond.

5. Sing For Me a New Song

Whether or not you’re deciding to meet for rehearsals or not, this is an excellent opportunity for the band to come together and make something ‘their own.’ You’re already familiar with lead sheets (the words with the chords over them), so why not type up your own if you feel the calling. Present it to the worship leader if you’re a band member; to pastor if you’re the worship leader. Present it to the band and be creative! It’s a new way to signify to the congregation that good things are happening in your place of worship.

 

New Sounds: Utilizing the Vocoder in Worship

Even though my degree from university technically says ‘Bachelor of Music in Music Theory & Composition,’ I actually studied Electronic Music Composition – so – I’m a total nerd when it coems to LFO’s, filters, sampling, and automation.  So naturally I’m attracted to new sounds besides the standard piano, strings, and organ most factory keyboards are furnished with.

With that being said, making your worship music texture new with the use of a vocoder can be a great change from the norm under 2 conditions

  1. Use the vocoder sparingly; it can get real old real quick if done too much
  2. Never ask for permission – always ask for forgiveness

Most traditional worship leaders won’t be for something so “new” instrumentally or texture-wise – so practice with the sound (whether its the vocoder or a completely new sound) in the sanctuary before or after the service for kicks.  Additionally, definitely rehearse a song by yourself at home to make sure you can easily & smoothly change chords with the vocoder while singing before implementing it into the service.  If you’re working with a new original tonal sound or effect – make sure you’re not going to run into any resonance or distortion issues. Above all – be respectful to your worship team & congregation.  If you see something isn’t going to work – don’t force it. Take time in crafting your sounds and samples. You want to add to worship – not take away from it.

Below is an example of the song “Facedown” by Matt Redman with a vocoder texture higher in the mix.   Happy Vocoding!

Worship With What Ya Got

Leading the church when you’re short of a full band

Animal (Muppet)

Image via Wikipedia

I think more times than not – I’ve been in praise in worship bands that are missing at least one key instrument on Sunday morning. And if you’re a worship musician, you’re like “c’mon.. really?” – And if you’re the worship leader, you’re simply doing the best with what you have to work with while secretly hoping Animal will walk through the sanctuary doors to play drums for you because your band seriously lacks charisma too.

In a situation like this, the most important thing to do is keep your focus on the Lord – for both your benefit and the congregation’s – you really should not portray anything but the unhindered worship of God.

Guitar and/or Piano, Bass, & Drums is typically your normal core ensemble; however, things can get tricky with contemporary worship when you’re missing one or more of these

Here’s some tips for various scenarios your worship band may be in

  • Guitar and/or Piano, & Bass – If you’re missing a drummer, my biggest suggestion is to keep things rhythmically simple. This can be best conveyed through the bass playing straight quarter, half, and whole notes. The guitar/piano have a bit more freedom in rhythm, but because there isn’t any percussion, the bass has a new role in helping keep that pulse there.
  • Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric), Bass – Definitely the most dreaded – the “rock band without a drummer.” As above, the bassist has the job of keeping that pulse there – quarters, halves, and whole notes are you palette.  The acoustic guitar work doesn’t have to change that much – simplicity is gold. I might also suggest keeping your chord voicings to the standard open chords when possible – You’re using all six strings and keeping the texture full this way. The electric guitar should stay away from distortion as much as humanly possible. Depending on the harmonic rhythm (how often the chords are changing), you may be able to supply some higher atmospheric chords through the use of appropriate amounts of reverb, delay, and/or slow phaser.  If you’re playing a hymn or anything that has very quick chord changes, do stay away from the reverbs & delays – Your best bet here is to play higher voicings of what the acoustic guitar is playing – otherwise, things will get real muddy real quick.
  • Guitar, Piano, & Drums – While you have a bit more freedom rhythmically all around, the pianist may want to play lower on the piano than usual as to keep the sound full in the absence of a bassist. This is really not a bad ensemble situation to be in. Be sure to communicate well with each other – there’s a lot you can do dynamically here.
  • Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric), Drums – I’d most likely suggest here that you keep the acoustic guitar to the full open chords – the acoustic is as much bass foundation as you’ll likely get here.  The electric guitar should keep things relatively simple – higher voiced chords if clean; long swells & single notes with delay/reverb with a light creamy distortion work well too.  For drums – if you’re playing a kit – simple is the theme of this post so let’s stick with that; however, if you have a djembe  available, go with it & perhaps a shaker. These work incredibly well together and provide an organic & intimate feel to worship.

Of course, these are all simply suggestions & wisdom from my years of playing in praise & worship bands. The above are the most common scenarios I’ve run into – Be creative with whatever comes your way and make the best of it –  It’s worship, after all.