Category: Technique

The Words

Well, election day has come and gone, and the winner decided. It will certainly be an interesting time ahead of us, so, like I said in my last post, let us pray for our leaders and bless them as they move forward into this HUGE undertaking.

For the real message of this post, I want to impress upon you something that I have gained from the book “Worship Matters”, which I am hoping to give a full review on shortly. The basic idea was that the words in the song are the important part, if you had to pick one. The music does add another element to those words and allows you to express them with certain emotional overtones, but the words are the heart; they are the message. So, even if you don’t sing, how much do you focus on the words? This part of a song is what ministers to us, and there is a reason we don’t just play instrumentals on Sunday! Remember that God didn’t just beam down a tape player (do people even use those anymore?), from which emitted this face-melting solo, and then His people got the message. No, instead He gave us His Word. Everything written in that book was meant to be spoken, and while the importance of music in worship is stressed throughout, it isn’t the cheif component of our worship. So, do you know the words to the songs you play? Do you simply read them off of the sheet as you go? Put these words into your heart, folks. Study the songs you play, glean the turths, find the scriptures that correspond, and know their significance. That really is a major factor to intentionalizing your worship. What good is the Truth if you don’t know it? Or if you don’t speak it?

This is basically a challenge for a post. I have stated similar thoughts before, but I’ll make it official now. I dare you to learn to play an instrument on your worship team that you haven’t played yet. Find some time to practice (I know, it’s tough, but worth it) that instrument until you can nail a few songs. Jam with some firends, to a CD, whatever you need to do. Once you are confident, try asking your worship leader if you can play that instrument, and list off the songs you know. I bet they are more than willing to let you, so long as you know what to play.

What this will do is give you a far better perspective on the music you play. Looking at a statue from a different angle reveals a lot more about the statue! Try doing this again and again, with new instruments. Each one you add to your repetoir will make you more and more versatile, and valuable to any team you play with. You don’t need to be an expert at each instrument, but having a working knowledge of its fundamentals will give you a great leg up. Now, your friendly neighborhood guitarist is gonna go practice bass for this Sunday!

D2W Update: Technical Guitar

This was the first session I took, and while a lot of what was discussed was the concept of ‘less is more’, there was also a good deal of energy directed towards gear, and how to use it well without over-using it or using it improperly. Here were a few bits of information that I gleaned. Some I ‘knew’ but didn’t KNOW, and others were completely new to me:

1. Putting your volume control ahead of your effects (which are also ahead of the amplifier) can actually determine the amount of effect or overdrive that comes out. The same is true of the volume knob on the guitar. If you weaken the signal, your effects will have less to work with, and will hence weaken those effects. This means you can always have crazy distortion on, but roll off the volume in order to roll off the distortion. The obvious application is a calmer verse and a jumped up chorus. This is also handy if you use a solid state amp or pedal where patch switching actually takes an appreciable amount of time.

2. Placing that same control behind your effects will retain the level of drive/modulation, etc, regardless of the volume level you set. Handy if you want some heavy crunch, only quieter.

3. ALWAYS place your tuner first in the loop! If you’ve got a chorus effect (discussed here), you’ll end up ruining your tuning on your guitar. And that’s just one reason.

4. All-in-one floorboards do give you a lot of options to mess with as far as effects and sounds go for a good price. Your own customized rack will likely get to be more expensive, and powering them all can be tricky. But when you are done, you get sounds that are far more tailored to what you want.

5. Radial ToneBone pedals are, as I expected, amazing.

A while ago I did a small segment on some of the problems that are experienced when electric guitars are dialed in to a clean sound. I won’t go through all the details of EQ this time, but hopefully this is informative.

Sharing the format with the aforementioned article, you’ve all heard this before. At a completely inopportune moment, your lead guitarist decides that he is going to try some lead stuff, but he/she wasn’t careful enough when dialing in the sound. All of a sudden you hear a monstrous pick scrape, some noise that sounds an awful lot like static, and after what seems like a few days, he/she finally hits the note that is currently being played. And it’s a quiet song.

The distorted guitar sounds that can be used are arguably more varied than clean ones. Here I should clarify terms…I am talking about over-driven sound here. Simply mashing the overdrive button on the amp and/or stomp box will not likely work in a worship setting. You can’t use the wailing and screaming lead tone you like so much for some blues rhythm riffs…it just doesn’t sound good. I can say that as it stands, I do have a few sounds that are pretty much dormant until the song(s) they were designed for winds up on the set list. The point is that you actually have to be fairly picky about the sound you use.

Using that last example, you would likely overpower the rest of the band, and that blues song would become a heavy metal song with only one band member. If you reverse roles, you find yourself lacking the sustain needed to really pull of some of the licks you want in an energetic song. There are MANY examples of how this all works, but the simple fact is that you can’t use one, even two or three sounds for all of your needs. Three might give you enough versatility to get by, especially if you are a more skilled guitarist, but I need five or more before I can really feel at home in certain songs. Yet again, another reason why modeling gear is super handy.

The Art of Stepping Aside

Have you ever had those moments at a practice when there are loads of competing ideas all coming out at once? Have you ever thought of how nice it would be to just pick one – any one – and do it without a fuss? This is where the art of stepping aside comes in.

When taking in ideas about a song, there are a few things you need to think about.

#1. How does it fit with your congregation? Are you trying to rock up a hymn in a church where the general attendance is a little older? Will they appreciate what you’ve done, or will it distract them and turn them off of the song?

#2. Are all members of the band capable of doing the idea in question? Regardless of how cool the idea is, it won’t work if the band as a whole doesn’t have the technical skill to do it.

#3. Does it actually contribute musically? Are you just throwing this in for fun, or did you hear the idea in your head and think it could actually really add to the feel of the song? This is very important, because musical contribution is more than just making noise. Sometimes, it just makes more sense to not have the keys, or any other instrument playing for a song.

There are a few more guidelines that you can probably think of, but those are some good ones to start with. If your idea is just that…and idea…then maybe you ought to just let it go for the sake of one of the three reasons above.

I’m back…

With my new guitar! I alluded earlier that I was eying a new axe, and it is here. Here are some shoddy photos until I get out of this poorly lit apartment with it:

As you might have guessed (or googled), this is a Trans Wine colored Highway One Stratocaster HSS. This is an incredibly versatile guitar, in large part due to that humbucker on the bridge. As is characteristic of Strats, the clean sounds on this thing are CRYSTAL clear. That humbucker has got to be the hottest pickup I have ever used, and it is a tough one to tame. However, once you do and you’ve got the right settings dialed in on your amp, you are approaching the Les Paul warmth territory. The nice thing about it being so hot is that it is like your personal overdrive pedal. Either way, here are some youtube videos that I am particular to:

I’m running my Strat out of a Fender Cyber Deluxe, which is a modeling amp (don’t tell Fender I said that), and I’ll tell you that the guitar plays very nicely with all of the effects on it, adding to the versatility.

Speaking of that word, I wanted to talk a little bit about its importance. If you are playing in a worship setting, chances are that the styles of music you play are vast and varied. I know that we usually hit 2 or 3 different genres each Sunday, so having the ability to do each well is kinda important! This goes beyond choosing an instrument (though it is important) and speaks to playing style and ability. It will make your life exponentially easier if you can learn and practice many styles of music. Not only will it help you out in a particular song, but you might be able to do things you never thought of, like incorporating a jazz lick into a modern rock worship tune!

This is something that I am still working on, but I realize that if I don’t, I’ll not likely go much further as a worship musician than I am now. Being able to float between styles of music will make you an increasingly valuable part of the team, just as an instrument capable of different styles has the same effect.

A simple concept, but oh so important

Today’s thought has to do with song dynamics. The basic idea is that a song has to be able to go somewhere, otherwise it gets repetitive and fairly anticlimactic. I’ll use “Holy Is the Lord” as an example.

Anyone who has heard this song will likely agree that the chorus especially is very powerful when done with a vocal or choral focus. Basically, the voices are the major driving force behind the song. Where you can really get stuck is if you start the song full tilt, and then try and take it up another level in the chorus. This past Sunday, we had a lot of voices up on stage, and it was difficult to sort of reign in the vocal component and control the dynamics of the song. We ended up starting the song with about 80 percent of our total energy, and therefore had nowhere to go by the time we hit the more ‘charismatic’ parts of the song.

Most recordings I have heard of this song start with a single vocalist, maybe some light pad, and an acoustic/clean electric guitar. Even the pre-chorus (“And together we sing…”) didn’t have much instrumental or vocal influence. However, once the chorus comes in, you have probably 6 or 7 more singers and the rest of the band going hard. This makes for a very powerfully arranged song that takes the congregation on what could be described as a ‘worship journey’.

It is simple to apply this principle to other songs, though remember that some require more care than others in this regard. Remember that ALL songs require this method of arrangement, and a simple solution is to go easy in the verse, and hard in the chorus. But you knew that 😉