The Electric: Less is More

Each Week I’ll try and address different aspects of the practical side of playing electric guitar in church music.

This week we’ll talk about Isolating Your Guitar Amplifier.

Less Is More.

When it comes to playing music in general, less is often more. When it comes to playing 2nd guitar in a church band. Less is almost ALWAYS more.

The reality is that this post could apply to both electric and acoustic guitar. The idea of 1st or 2nd anything comes from an orchestra, where if you have 3 violins you have the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd chairs. Usually, in a church worship band the rhythm guitar is the 1st guitar, then you could have a 2nd guitar (lead guitar) or a 2nd acoustic and lead guitar (electric).

How does “less is more” apply here? Well, if you have two acoustic guitars and an electric do you really need all three doing the same thing? Most church bands are either driven by the leader playing a piano/keyboard or a guitar. The leader will be doing the bulk of the heavy lifting. Our job in that 2nd guitar roll is fill in the sound. If the 1st guitar is strumming a lot, then I’m going to strum less. If we are playing in E and he or she isn’t using a Capo, then I’m going to throw a capo on 2nd fret and play in D.

If I’m the 2nd guitar and the 1st is playing rhythm then I’ll strum whole note chords, pick a little etc, but if I’m the 3rd guy in the mix then I’ll probably play even less.

The More Effects, the Less I Play

I have 9 pedals on my board, 8 of them can affect the sound (The other is a tuning pedal). The more pedals I have switched on, the less I play. This a mistake that is pretty common for younger players and one that I made for a long time. If you play the same with effects on as you do with a “clean” signal it’s not going to sound muddy.

If my delay is on then that means my guitar will now produce more sounds then I’m actually playing, this needs to be taken into account. If my tremolo is on a slower setting and I strum at a faster tempo it will sound discordant.

Learning restraint with effects is one of the greatest skills a musician can master.

When in Doubt, Don’t Play

This is easier said than done. One of my mantras is that “the hardest thing for a musician to do is not play their instrument”. This is true for me as much as anyone. I lead 80% of the time at Calvary:Arlington, but when I don’t I often find myself playing electric. It is really hard to not play. I’ll be posting a thought on dynamics in the coming weeks which applies here, but not only that, when you don’t play, the notes you do play become that much more
powerful.

This Isn’t a Rock Concert

I hear this every so often, and in reality there are churches where it feels like worship has been turned into a performance. But often I hear this from people who, in my opinion, wrongly associate simplicity with holiness. This is a whole post unto itself but the short version is that I disagree. I want to get better at what I do. I want to be able to serve Jesus and His church better through my music. I want to encourage people to do the same. We aren’t a rock concert, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know how to rock.

Disagree? Have a different take? Lets talk, chime in with a comment.

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2 thoughts on “The Electric: Less is More

  1. Pingback: The Electric: Chord Voicing | Real World Worship Leading

  2. Brad Jorde

    Great post. I’ve read a few others on electric guitar in worship and I can’t not comment on this one. What’s being said above is SO true and SO needed. I had the opportunity to go to a panel discussion with a VERY guitar driven worship leader recently (think big tall mohawk) and he shared some similar insights to what I’m reading here. The thing he said that struck me the most, though was the concept of “why?” As a musician you MUST always be willing to ask the why question. And do not just ask it once. For example, try having this conversation with yourself:

    “Self, why are you kicking in Jack White-ish fuzz in a slow paced worship set?”
    “Well gee self, because I really think it sounds good.”
    “Why?”
    “Because it just does.”
    “Why?”
    “Because it gets me excited.”
    “Why?”
    “Because I love that kind of music”
    “Well, self, did you ever consider the congregation in all of this?”

    And so on and so on. Here’s the key to the “why?” concept. If the ultimate stripped away answer to the question doesn’t have anything to do with encouraging or helping your congregation, but has to do with you, what you want to play, or your preferences…..check yourself. Those big hard stops, the screaming solos, the teeth-barred amounts of gain might be fun to play, but ultimately every piece of the band is there to serve God first, their congregation second, and themselves last.

    As with most things in Christianity, usually if you pay all your attention to God and others, you’ll find it to be more fulfilling than paying attention to yourself in the first place.

    Great post again! I appreciate it.

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