Worship bands generally rely on developing their song arrangements organically. Even with a proper chord chart, it’s left to each player to determine their specific parts. Listening skills and musical discipline is a learned-trait for most players, and unless we as leaders promote excellence of musicianship within our worship teams, the result will be confusion, and we will continue to dog paddle in mediocrity.
To get to the the next musical level, the following paragraphs contain very helpful information, beginning with the all-important 100% Rule, and concluding with a list of 10 helpful tips to launch your worship band into the realm of the sublime!
The 100% Rule
It’s important to set a proper goal or standard for each player to maintain dynamics and musicality. This is best illustrated by using the 100% rule.
Using the diagram, we see that when a single instrument plays a song’s accompaniment, the player can make use of 100% of the musical landscape: rhythm, bass, chordal movements, etc. But when another instrument joins the accompaniment—such as an acoustic guitar with a piano, for instance—each must adjust their playing to 50% of the musical landscape.
When a bass player joins the band, the keyboardist can now focus less on their left hand-playing (bass), and the guitar can now focus on chord placement higher on the neck, away from the range occupied by the keys. Now 33% musical space is given to each of the three instruments.
When a drummer joins the band, the other players can relax even more to make room for the new instrument. It’s no longer necessary for the piano, acoustic guitar and bass to carry the bulk of the rhythmic responsibility. Though the rhythm is still somewhat shared, each player must be careful to avoid wandering into the other players’ territory. As a result, each person can play even less: 25 percent each, and so on. The successive addition of instruments will result in each person having to play less.
To hear examples of “building block” playing, listen to the complex harmonic and rhythmic construction techniques of groups like Earth, Wind and Fire and Coldplay. Paying close attention, one can hear that each individual instrumentalist is playing relatively simple parts. But by pulling back and listening to the big picture, interactions between the elements create an intricate but satisfying sum total. In other words: a big sound can be created by interweaving smaller, simpler parts.
In all of my experience playing live and in the studio, I find that the three “Ls” of good musicianship are: Listen. Listen. Listen. When a musician pays close attention to what the others are doing, and conceptualizes that playing in a band is more about creating a conversation than each person making a speech, the music benefits tremendously.
Sonic Space and the Frequency Spectrum
Every instrument fills a sonic space within the frequency (or tonal) spectrum. Keyboards and guitars share similar characteristics of tone, so it’s easy for parts to become “blurry,” or covered up when everyone plays in the same space. For instance, when a piano part is centered around mid-keyboard (middle-C), the guitarists will do better to find parts that occupy another tonal space in another octave.
Also, when using more than one guitar, it’s important that each player decide where on the neck to play; one guitarist can play chords high on the neck, while the other takes a lower position. Sometimes an electric guitar can make a huge musical statement by playing a simple part on a single string with a creative effect like a delay or tremolo. Two keyboardists can choose between two patches and create complimentary parts to play.
It’s important to be creative and experimental in choosing unique sounds for each instrument’s part. This will help to diversify the tonal pallet, making it easier for each part to be heard in the mix. (Sound techs constantly battle while attempting to mix a band that plays indiscriminately, whose players don’t carefully select well chosen parts).
Here are some tips on playing economically, musically and skillfully.
- Choose economical parts to play. Using the 100% rule as a guide, learn to play less as other instruments are added to the band. Sometimes go high, sometimes low…whatever is needed to advance the song. Develop a signature riff. Well constructed parts are the starting-point for a great sounding band.
- Make use of dynamics. Listen to each other. Don’t play if the music doesn’t call for it (what a concept!). Verses can be softer than choruses to create interest and diversity within a song. A song’s power in worship is diminished when everyone plays full-blast, all the time. Like a good novel, think of a song as having a beginning, middle and end; decide which parts and instrumentation will be layered in and out to create an ebb and flow within the song.
- Make sure that everyone plays the same chord progression. A well organized chord chart is essential for each player, displaying chords with corresponding rhythmic movements.
- Make sure everyone pays attention to the fine details in each song. Solidify each rhythmic highlight, whole-note, dynamic rise and fall, and tempo change, Make sure everyone is accenting at the same place, at the same time.
- Stay in tune. Make sure the band is in tune. Check that the keyboards are in correct concert pitch (A-440). They sometimes can be slightly off if a keyboard player is not careful while scanning through patches and changing parameters. Guitar and bass players need to continually check their tuning (silently, please!).
- Make sure everyone can hear themselves in the monitors, and can hear and see each other on stage. Good monitoring and proper sight-lines between band members is essential for communication.
- Use a click. A click/metronome (for the drummer alone, or in the headphones of the band) is helpful to insure that the predetermined tempo is followed. Tempos that feel right in rehearsal may feel either too slow or too fast during performance—stick to what you decide beforehand! The drummer usually operates the click, so allow for enough time to adjust tempos between songs.
- Be generous—give musical space for others to fill. Don’t be selfish; give opportunity for everyone in the band to shine. The most important thing is to prefer each other in love (Romans 12:10), and for the collective, disciplined efforts of each player to focus on the betterment of the whole.
- Play in time. Don’t rush the beat, which is the most common trait of a novice player on the team. Be careful, when necessary, to lay back the beat in a musical fashion. Practice with a click. Make sure everyone hears plenty of hi-hat from the drummer, especially the singers (who may not be able to hear the click).
- Pay attention to tone. Tone for each player is subjective, but it can be agreed that each instrument must be warm and full-sounding—without the annoying hiss of white-noise or rumble of 60-cycle electrical hum. A good tone originates from well crafted instruments and amplifiers; high-quality cabling; good, quiet effects; proper microphone techniques and direct input devices. Don’t expect to sound like your favorite rock star simply because you buy the same gear. “Bone Tone”—the individuality that comes from your unique touch—can be a good thing! Get help from a musician who’s tone you prefer to help you create a desirable sound.