I started playing bass when I was 12. When I was 14 I picked up the guitar. I’ve been playing both ever since. I led worship for the first time at age 14. I learned to practice by playing in bands in high school, and worship teams in my teens and 20′s.
Not everyone who plays in a church band has that kind of background. A lot of good folks learned to play their instrument on their own and don’t know how to play and practice with a band. The following series of posts will be thoughts on how to serve God and His church well, by learning how to practice well. Here’s a few thoughts and musings on “Finding A Place” in the band for you and your instrument.
Part 2: Finding Your Place In The Song.
In this 2nd part of the series I wanted to talk about what you’re doing as a musician in the song itself. When you show up for band practice do you just start playing along right away or do you listen for where you’ll fit in the grand scheme of things? Figuring out where you’re supposed to be and some tips on how to get there.
“One of the most freeing places a musician can come to is the realization that I Don’t Have To Play Right Now.”
What are you playing?
It sounds simple, but the instrument I’m playing effects what I play. Let’s say there’s more than one guitar, if I’m the 2nd acoustic guitar and the electric is doing “lead work” then the band doesn’t really need me to play the same thing as the main acoustic guitar, and it really doesn’t need me compete with the electric for solo work. In this case I would probably just do some light picking or do some sustained chord work to “fill in the sound”. If I’m the keyboardist or guitar player who has the “lead” responsibilities, maybe I’ll back off or just not playing during any parts of the song with singing. Knowing what my role in the song is (which is determined by my instrument) affects where, when, what and how I play.
Should I be playing?
It’s the hardest thing for a musician to do: not play your instrument when it’s in your hands. The flip side of this is that one of the most freeing places a musician can come to is the realization that I Don’t Have To Play Right Now.
If the song is a sparse ballad, then maybe it doesn’t need a driving drum beat. If we are going “all out” on the chorus or the ending, then maybe in the 2nd verse I could just hang back. In other words, sometimes less is more. If I’m the drummer and it’s an uptempo song, maybe its the first song of the Sunday church service, then I need to be ready to rock from the get go. It’s all about being aware of where you’re at, and what’s going on around you.
“Knowing what my role in the song is affects where, when, what and how I play.”
Sometimes I just need to listen
I’ve found that sometimes, when I’m practicing, I just need to drop out for a second and hear what’s going on around me. I want to hear what the band leader is doing, etc, and then jump back in when I have an idea where I fit in. Recently I was doing backing vocals on a song, the first time we practiced it I didn’t sing, I just listened and I figured out where I should jump in, which I decided for this song was the 2nd verse, singing only on every other line and then coming in a bit stronger on the chorus. It gave a nice feel to the vocals on the song. I knew what my role was as the backing vocalist. I didn’t have to sing every line and I learned more by listening than doing. Sometimes it’s the other way around and I figure out my bit from messing around for a minute or two, but even that requires some listening and the maturity (gained over time) to know when and where to just try something out and when to step back and listen for a moment.
We serve by thinking
The key to all of this is using our brain and being aware of what’s going on around us. Luke 10:27 tells us to love God ‘with all our mind”. I take this very literally: God Wants Us To Think. Finding my place in the song by using my brain to know what my role is, what my instrument is supposed to do, and what kind of song it is (ballad vs. uptempo), are all acts of spiritual worship to God. I serve the band I’m playing with by being aware of what’s going on. The band serves the church family by being well practiced. We all serve God in praise, worship, and adoration to Jesus and about Jesus through our God-given ability to express thoughts and feelings through music.