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 4(A): Finding Your Place In The Sound
Music has both Range (Frequency, Pitch, Timbre) and Dynamic (Fast, Slow, Loud, Quiet.)
This Post will deal with the Range, and Part B will deal with Dynamics.
Range, Where do I fit?
Music has Range. What we will call Highs, Mids, and Lows. Bass guitar is a Low End instrument. Rhythm guitar, and vocals generally sit in the Mid-range. The High End is filled out by the Lead Guitar, Strings , Mandolin, and Banjo. Then there is the Piano which can cover everything, Low’s to High’s. There are of course many other instruments I could list but since this series is aimed towards practicing with a church worship band, I’m focusing on the instruments that are more commonly seen in that setting. If you are a flute player or a cellist, then you probably know where your instrument sits and can use this post accordingly.
How Does Range affect how I play?
A lot of how you find your place in the sound when it comes to range is to look around at what other instruments are in the band. If I’m playing Electric Guitar by there is a fiddle player doing leads, then maybe I’m going to stay off the lead lines, and just do some picking (arpeggios) around the chord or just strum the chord once and let the notes ring to fill in the sound.
If there is a situation where the band only has a leader with an acoustic guitar and a keyboard, then the Keyboardist will want to stay off the middle keys and focus on the Low’s and the Highs and leave the Mid-range to the Guitar and Vocals.
If you’re in a situation with two acoustic guitars then the 2nd player should find a way to carve out their own sound. I do this by using a Capo. I’ve practiced so that I can play E, F, and G in the Key of D depending on where the Capo is. If the main guitar player is strumming, I’ll pick or strum whole notes.
If you’re the bass player and the keyboardist is “hogging” the bass lines, then maybe try playing the notes higher up on the neck.
The point is the depending on what instrument I’m playing, I need to look around and see where I’m needed instead of where I want to play.
A Word On Pianos
I love the Piano. It’s a great instrument and I’ve loved it’s resurgence in music in the last 10 years with bands like Coldplay, Keane, Death Cab for Cutie, and others. The Piano can do anything. It can hit the highs and reach the Lows. A synthesizer can do even more because it can emulate bass, strings, organs, guitars, etc. The Piano/Keyboard has the potential to do more than any other member of the church band. But as the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
The Piano can step on the musical toes of everyone else with great ease. Several years ago I played in a band with a keyboardist who was a musical “bull in the china shop”. I was the bass player and there he was constantly stepping on my lines. At the same time, he did all the lead work that the strings or electric guitar was supposed to do. He drove the dynamics that should have been the drummer’s job. This would have all been fine if it was just him, but a band is made up of many parts. This Piano player (who was a very nice guy and I miss playing with him) had just learned to play on his own and not realized how to play well with others. Guys like him are the reason I’ve been writing this series. Had he been seasoned, he might have communicated with the lead players or the drummer or the bass player and stayed off their lines, and worked with the band instead of unintentionally overpowering them.
Music itself is a form of communication. Musicians should take a cue from that and communicate with each other. If you’re unsure where you’re place is, ask the band leader. If you feel like someone else in the band is clashing sonically with you, then talk it out. If you’re a band leader, then it’s on you to know the different ways the instruments in your band play and work and give some guidance on where and how they should employ their sounds.
Put all the highs, mids, and lows together in harmony and you have a cohesive sound that can be used to Praise Jesus and serve His church. Jesus may still be praised by a church band that hasn’t or won’t learn how to play well together, but His church won’t be as well served, and to serve well can itself be an act of worship.