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

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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

Man on Fire | Ars Nova of Recorded Worship

As a composer, performer, & recording artist – the goal is simple: Write, Record, Sell

Jesus Culture

Jesus Culture (Photo credit: AdamRozanas)

And even after you put the word ‘Christian into the mix, ‘Christian, composer, performer, recording artist‘ – I feel the goal is still percieved the same – ‘Write, Record, Sell‘ only with a different target market. This is due largely to

  1. the enormity of the Christian music market & its vast sub markets & genres
  2. the oft luke-warm & negative connotations of the word Christian.

When one is on fire for Jesus – or
when one’s only concern is furthering His kingdom – or
when one’s upmost desire is attaining the presence of God – or
whatever word or phrase that represents this choice in life combined with ‘composer, performer, & recording artist‘ do you get a different goal.

Yes, you still write, record, and sell your music, BUT, the goal is the above list. The goal is in

  • Jesus & sharing Him, and
  • longing for His presence & advancing His kingdom. It’s in
  • capturing the Holy Spirit in the recording.

This goal is the pinnacle of the Ars Nova (new art, if you will) of Worship. And it is this pinnacle that’s behind why I enjoy & connect with live worship albums so much.

Just the other day, it was blazing hot – in the upper 90’s if not 100’s – I was driving with the windows down listening to one of Jesus Culture’s live recordings of ‘You Are My Passion,’ getting cold chills all over my body (mind you how hot it was) hearing the words ‘I belong to Jesus’ being sang with so many in His presence.

The Holy Spirit is not something so much captured in the studio, the old art, but in real live worship captured, recorded, in front of the King; shared with oh so many more.

There’s something so much more right and much more biblical in including those worshiping, and not just the ones leading, in recorded ‘praise & worship’ music.

Praise & Worship Guitarist | What To Bring to Worship

As a guitarist, it’s easy & quite likely to have malfunctions or surprises come Sunday morning – And it’s frustrating to be troubleshooting equipment problems & frantically running around looking for a quick fix instead of preparing for the upcoming worship service.

Photograph of Sound Recording Equipment from t...

Photograph of Sound Recording Equipment from the Division of Motion Pictures, 1941 (Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives)

Here’s a list of things I like to have on me every Sunday morning

  • Pen – I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for all musicians to have a writing utensil on them during rehearsal. It’s so important to make note of that upcoming key change or impending a capella section. Don’t be that musician.
  • Staff Paper – Not a necessity for every musician, like those who don’t read music, but often I’ve had to transcribe something from a recording or from another musician to use during the service. So, to avoid the risk of forgetting the musical passage, the staff paper fixes all.
  • Extra Picks – Kind of a no-brainer; however, you don’t want to find yourself bending & twisting your old university ID card in attempts break it & to turn it into a picking device.  Yes… I’ve done it.
  • Extra Cable – You never know when you’re going to get a short in that quarter-inch cable you’ve been using for the past 5 years. Best to keep a spare!
  • Filed Sheet Music – If you serve at a smaller church, like myself, and are responsible for keeping up with your music. Invest a couple of bucks into an accordion style folder that has those alphabetized tabs – After being handed that setlist, it’s proven to prevent headaches!
  • Extra Strings – Almost a no-brainer, but I’ve been nearly late to leading worship at Life Group because I had to run to Guitar Center to grab strings after breaking that high E. It’s best to keep a set handy at all times.
  • Tuner – Not something I keep on me because my pedal board and acoustic guitar have one built in, but you should have access to one! Definitely have the pianist give you a reference E if you find yourself without a tuner.
  • Batteries – Does any of your equipment run off these? Your pickups, wireless device, fx pedals, tuner? Better add this to the grocery list.
  • Audio Recorder – For a while when I had borrowed one (from a friend…for a couple of years), I’d often bring the audio recorder to set up next to my monitor or amp for reference. While the Spirit may over come you during the service, it never hurts to check the audio recorder at home after the service for some things you can clean up in your playing.
  • Extra Guitar – This is just something that I do that I thought I’d mention if you have the means. A lot of churches are made up of volunteer musicians, and often, I don’t know if I’m playing with an ensemble made up of ‘bass & drums’ or ‘acoustic guitar & djembe.’ So, it certainly makes a difference to have the option of my acoustic over my electric if need be for orchestration purposes.
  • Worship – Not an item, but a way of preparing yourself. We’ve been taught to already be worshiping when we show up. Whatever that may be for you, get your heart there. Don’t forget, you’re lead worshipers; therefore, you should be worshiping first!
  • Bible – Just sayin.’ For the King.

Are you a worship musician? What are some things you find essential for Sunday morning?

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!

For the Glory of it All

Triángulo de Pascal en el escrito original de ...

Triángulo de Pascal en el escrito original de Pascal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our DNA sequence doesn’t have a key signature. The fibonacci series isn’t in 4/4. So – why should our worship music be limited by such rules?

Our congregations aren’t as dumb as our worship music makes them out to be.

I’m sure God could’ve made these essentials a lot simpler in life – but where would His glory and extravagance in that?  It’s as if this whole contemporary worship thing thrives on the upmost simplicity & gets away with it so much that

Description: A typical Sunday morning worship ...

Description: A typical Sunday morning worship time in the main venue, Building A Photographer: David Ball Date: July 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

we’ve stopped challenging ourselves to creative something ornate and beautiful for the King.

What can we do to make our music more ornate – rhythmically – harmonically – instrumentally – to make use of our God given creativity – but remain accessible to our congregations? Let’s move forward.

When the King returns – we should be in the fields workings – not copying and pasting.