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.