A pianist who has played in church for 30 years, a middle-age former rocker, an older country bassist, a high school drummer, and an acoustic guitarist who has led worship in college. No it’s not a set-up for a joke. It’s a pretty typical worship band. So how do you bring together all of these musical experiences and backgrounds?
Many churches are blessed with musicians from a variety of skill levels and musical backgrounds. Yes, it’s a blessing! God can grow them and you through this experience of creating a great sounding band and an effective group of lead worshipers. What may appear at first as a band with no focus, can ultimately give God glory and honor while sounding good to you as well. So where do we start?
Always keep Jesus, the one whom we are doing this for, at the forefront of their minds. They will need that encouragement to carry them through struggles to come. Excellence for excellence sake will not inspire them very long, nor will striving to impress man have any long-term effects. There must be a spiritual motivation and even then their motivation may waver.
Keeping It Together
One thing most worship bands need help with is keeping accurate time. To make this an objective process, use a click track. It can be as simple as a metronome in their monitor mix during rehearsal or in the service if they have in-ears monitors. This will be new for a lot of musicians and can be a great bonding experience for them. This way, you as the leader, are not pointing out any individual deficiencies and the metronome device is totally objective.
Get Everyone on the Same Page
Determine what form of sheet music is going to work best for your group. I like true rhythm charts because they include instructions shaping the arrangement. They solidify song structure and take the guesswork out of rhythms. Again, this can be new for a lot of self-taught musicians, but I have never had an instrumentalist who hasn’t been able to pick it up within a couple of rehearsals. Every person, regardless of skill level, appreciates your honoring their time. The more information included in the music, the less you need to say and the quicker a rehearsal can come together.
Know What You Want
As ministers, our duty is to equip the saints for ministry. Don’t believe things will just “work out.” Be prepared to equip beyond your skill level and abilities. Having a clear vision of what you want and being able to sing or articulately communicate those parts provides clear musical direction and is critical in running a smooth rehearsal, as well as achieving the desired sound. When you, as the leader, are prepared and have this thought out, your band will take it with the same seriousness. If you’re a vocalist and not an instrumentalist, this may be something you really have to work on, but it’s worth it. Think of yourself as a producer. Considering the abilities of your players, determine what sound you want (and can realistically achieve) and have a plan to get them there.
Practical Tips for Instrumentalists
- Left hand. Don’t try to be the bassist. Whole note (diamonds) following the changes is a simple substitution.
- Right hand. Don’t try to emulate complicated rhythmic patterns better-suited for guitar. Quarter notes are a great default.
- Open up chords and use tighter voicings. Avoid the 3rd and catch the extended chords that guitarist may abbreviate.
- If you move around (or arpeggiate), do it on the back of measures, allowing space at the front.
- Use a keyboard sound to thicken the effect and provide sustain to take away the tendency to overplay in order to create sustain (Wurlitzer, Rhodes, EP’s, and Pads).
- Avoid open strings when possible.
- Use positions higher on the neck.
- When something needs to drive, steady 8th notes do it every time.
- Practice left and right hand muting.
- Drop the lead concept if you’re the only electric guitarist.
- Study your power chords.
- Steady down stroke 8th notes and sustain diamonds are a great foundation.
- Use a little delay to fill out your sound.
- Pick four sounds: clean, a little broken up (grainy distortion), full distortion (not too compressed), and the last with a little more gain for really loud sections.
- Simple 8th note and 16th note strumming patterns, with a steady up and down motion will help time.
- Accent within those patterns and ghost (fake strums) when needed.
- If picking, “dovetail” with the pianist. You pick on the first half of the bar and the pianist takes over on the back half.
- If volume is a concern try some “hot rod” style sticks.
- Replicating what is on the recording is great, but it may not work with your group.
- Focus on the groove and what makes it work. Less is more.
- Lock in your kick pattern with the bassist.
- Be aware of how your part fits with each musician and the vocal team, and then adjust for what is needed.
ROB SHARP is currently the worship minister at Ellerbe Baptist in Shreveport, La. Rob has been a professional freelance musician and band director. For the past 13 years, he’s served in churches in Louisiana and Texas as a worship associate specializing in Instrumental Music. Rob has also served as a state consultant for praise bands/praise teams.