I’ll be using these original Christmas songs as examples, click to listen:
Getting your praise band to sound as current as possible isn’t too hard – keep these points in mind:
Everyone doesn’t play all the time: Good pop music has layers of synth, drums, loops and guitars. Sometimes all layers are playing, sometimes not.
Have You Heard is a full-throttle praise song yet still has layers that come and go. Every instrument is playing on the intro and choruses but the B3 and synth drop out during the verses and final half-chorus. It really is okay for your guitarist to stand there once in awhile for a 20 second verse and not play.
Angels Were Singing is a textbook example of using layers in pop music. Notice how each instrument is added throughout the song. By the time you get to the end of the bridge, everyone’s playing and it sounds huge.
- intro: acoustic guitar / synth pad
- 1/2 verse: acoustic guitar
- 1/2 verse: acoustic guitar / synth pad
- midtro: acoustic guitar / synth pad / electric piano
- verse: acoustic guitar / electric piano / light drums
- chorus: acoustic guitar / synth pad / electric piano / full drums
- 1/2 bridge: acoustic guitar / synth lead / electric piano / full drums
- 1/2 bridge: acoustic guitar / synth lead / electric piano / full drums / strings / drum loop
This goes for vocals, too – notice how the female background vocalist does not sing all the time. She comes in midway through the first chorus, then drops out at the beginning of the bridge and the first half of the final chorus.
Simple B3: Often merely a 4th or a 5th, the B3 part acts as a drone over Have You Heard, filling in empty space and thickening the arrangement. When it drops out during verses and bridges the contrasting emptiness allows the music to breathe.
Simple guitar riffs: Notice the dry electric guitars on Have You Heard. (listen to the Have You Heard ELECTRIC demo above.) These parts are not hard to play, but when combined form a powerful and modern sound. Pop music is built on simple, “hooky” lines that are layered upon layer.
Synth loops vs. drum loops: Drum loops have no tonality, synth loops do – usually arpeggiating in 4ths, 5ths or octaves. Pop music seems to be trending towards the tonality of synth loops. I blend the two in Angels Were Singing. Notice how the loop boosts the 2nd half of the bridge.
Bells: Add a few bells here and there during your December praise sets for some Christmas magic. The tube bells on the 2nd half of the bridge and final chorus of Angels Were Singing add an epic feel to the arrangement. One church I played with last year borrowed a set of tube bells from a local college and used them to great effect during a Christmas praise set.
Save your favorite sounds for easy access: I’m often asked “how can I find the sound you’re using on my synthesizer?” The answer is: you can’t. What you hear on pop recordings typically isn’t a single synth but a layered blend from multiple virtual instruments (computer software.) What you can do is scroll through your hundreds of keyboard sounds and find your favorite electric pianos, strings and synth pads (look for a few basic pads and airy/ethereal pads.) Synth leads are usually a monophonic sound – an example is the synthy type sound that slides from note to note starting in the bridge of Angels Were Singing. Look for patches that approximate the sounds you hear on recordings and save these patches to easily accessible user sound banks so you don’t have to hunt and peck during a performance.
Bottom Line: The best way to obtain a modern sound with your praise band is to use your ears: encourage your players to listen to the reference recording and replicate the guitar tones and synth patches as best they can with the gear they own.
Enjoy Have You Heard and Angels Were Singing? Download chord charts and sheet music with a HymnCharts or HymnChartsLITE subscription.