by Joe Glass
I played the bass guitar in my first garage band when I was 12 years old. It was the early 70’s, and the ‘Peppermint Wave,’ as we called ourselves, was very popular at local birthday parties, picnics, and gas station openings. Our rendition of ‘Wipeout’ was truly inspirational, and we played by that one all-important rule: LOUD is good! One time, my dad suggested we play a little softer and actually listen to each other, and we thought he was crazy.
Ah, youth! Kids still like their music loud, and if you’ve got a Praise Band with young players, you might have a few volume issues yourself. With that in mind, here are some tips for Praise Band that may help you.
First of all, here are the rules:
The 100% rule. If you are the piano player and you’re the only one playing, you are at 100%. You’re playing it all. If you add a guitar, you just halved your contribution. You are 50% and the guitar is 50%. Add a drummer and a bass player, and you become 25%. What this means is that each instrumentalist plays a little less with the addition of other instruments, and no one plays ‘all out’.
Less is more. This is the 100% rule restated. Any good studio musician will tell you that what you don’t play is just as important as what you do play. Learn to play and listen at the same time. If you can’t hear the other instruments, either you’re too loud or they’re too soft. If one player is soloing between phrases, don’t play on top of him. One of my drummers used to always say, “When in doubt, don’t play.”
Don’t duplicate. If you’ve got a piano and a keyboard, have one play rhythmically and the other more sustained. Same thing for a guitar and keyboard (unless it’s a really upbeat song). Again, the key is to listen to each other and avoid playing the same thing.
Always play in tune, and always keep a steady beat. You can have a great Praise Band without having the greatest players in the world. Make sure all instruments are tuned, that they play the right notes and chords, and that they play in rhythm. I’ll take a good, solid, consistent sound over a lot of flair any day. You want people to worship with you. You don’t want to create a distraction.
Don’t overpower the worship leader and singers. Just as your band listens to each other, they should be listening to the singers as well.
Keep it simple. A basic rhythm section can do wonders for your worship without a lot of extra instrumentation. Here’s a quick overview of what you need:
Piano/keyboard provides the harmonic structure and basic accompaniment. Encourage your players to play more in the line of chords, and not so much pianistically. This is easy for me, since I play kind of a ‘rhythm piano’ anyway. Stretch your accompanists by teaching them how to read a chord chart. Some say not to play below C below Middle C, as you will double the bass guitar. During intros or interludes, try having them play their right hand an octave higher.
Acoustic Guitar, along with the piano, provides the harmonic and rhythmic foundation. Most songs are either piano or guitar-driven. Make sure your players complement each other, and not play on top of each other. Also, please make sure the guitar is in tune, and don’t overplay.
Bass Guitar – arguably the most important instrument in the combo, because it provides the solid foundation for the harmonic structure, plus doubling the rhythm of the drums. The bass player doesn’t have to be flashy–just precise. When I’ve been without another bass player, sometimes I’ve opted to play the bass instead of the acoustic guitar, just because of that bottom and drive you miss when it’s not there.
Drums – carries the rhythm and sets the groove for the song. A drummer can make or break your group. They have to, I repeat HAVE TO, play with a constant, steady beat. Ever try to sing a song with a drummer who speeds up and slows down? Kind of makes you want to stop singing, doesn’t it? The best drummers will give you that solid beat, without all the fancy fills and cymbal work.
Those are the basics, as far as I see it. Now here are some nice-to-haves:
Synthesizer – provides the sustained pad background. Have them play an electric piano, string, rock organ, or electronic pad sound to add a fullness to the group. They don’t have to play full chords themselves, as the sound will blend with the other instruments well enough. Also, have them try playing on octave higher with just the right hand, or a low string sound in slower songs. Put your most creative person on this instrument if you can, and allow them to experiment.
Electric Lead Guitar – adds to the rhythm, provides fills between phrases, and especially can add drive if they double the bass guitar with a distorted sound. Beware of this player playing full chords, as it can muddy up the overall sound.
Percussion toys – including congas, djembe, tambourine, egg shaker (my specialty), claves, cabaza, etc. A good conga player can especially add energy when he doubles the drums on a faster song. Always keep in mind: less is more.
Orchestral or band instruments – this is out of the scope of this article, but they can provide very nice solo/obbligato lines. When you do have multiple instruments, remind them to play a dynamic level below what is written, or they’ll overpower the rest of the group and the vocalists.
A final word: Don’t put inexperienced players on the platform, unless you or your experienced players have the time to work with them and develop their sense of rhythm and harmony. I’m not saying don’t develop your young players, but they need to be at a certain level before they can lead worship effectively. Mom may be proud of little Joey and his new bass guitar, but he’ll kill your sound if you put him up there before he’s ready.
A second final word: If your experience is like mine, you’ll have some wonderful volunteer players whose ministry is to support you and lead in worship. Always encourage excellence, but ease up on perfection. They don’t have to be the Maranatha Praise Band, but they can provide you with a solid sound for giving God the praise He deserves.