What’s one thing we could all do better this Sunday?
Who am I not talking to? Those faithful saints who serve well all by themselves, the solo guitar player or piano player that leads there church in worship week in, and week out. Thank you for all you do! That was me for many years. You have to do every thing. The rhythm, the low end, any lead bit, it all comes from you.
Who am I talking to? Everyone else.
How Many Are In the Band?
How much I do or don’t play can be based on how many people are in the band. Let’s say there’s just me, that is our baseline number or 100%. Add a couple of people in the band and my playing level goes down. I was 100% of the music before, but if there’s now 4 people in the band and we are all playing at 100% that’s 300% too much music.
If I’m the main acoustic guitar player and we’ve added a bass player. I’m now going to drop to 80% because I’m going to want to loose any bass lines I might have been adding to the chords. D with and F# root note is probably the most common example of this in worship music. If we add a Piano or 2nd guitar I’m probably going to want to drop down a little more to 70 or even 60% to make room for them. If you have a full band then you will want to consider places like the verses or bridges in the song where you may not want to play at all.
It flips a little if you’re a backing instrument because you’re not the main instrument driving the song. So if I’m playing bass (which I did for many years) in a worship band that before was only and acoustic guitar. The acoustic guitar should hold back a little but I need to be careful not to over power. It’s not going to be a 50/50 split. If it’s a soft moment and I’m going full steam its just not going to sound good. Truthfully bass players usually aren’t the problem with this. Sometimes it’s electric guitars but for more often than not it’s the piano.
I’ve said this before but the piano/keyboard can do everything. They can handle the low end bass lines. They can handle the lead bit. And they live in the midrange where the vocals and guitars play. Want to be a better band member starting right now? Play less. Does you’re band have bass player, then ignore the lower third of your keys. Does your band have singers and an acoustic guitar? Stay off the middle and basically tie your left hand behind your back. That’s not to say that you should never play. Not at all. I’m just saying that in the realm of when not to play, the piano can do the most damage.
Communication is the key. Talk to the rest of the band. Maybe on this song the electric guitar isn’t going to play much, then you can handle the lead bits. Maybe the bass player isn’t going to come in until the 2nd verse so it’s cool if you use you’re left hand up until then. If you’re on a keyboard/synthesizer, then maybe some other sound (organ, reed organ, fender rhodes) that will sit in the mix well even if you’re playing in the same range as another instrument.
When It’s Ok to Give 100%
There are moments in songs when it’s ok to give it your all. My band knows that when a verse or chorus or line in the chord chart is in all bold then everyone is in with full energy. I usually want this to happen in the last chorus or a bridge or something. For example, take the song Jesus Paid it All. You could either do as I usually do and have the bridge (oh praise the One who paid my debt) be full bore 100%, or you could cut the bridge to just say the worship leader and the piano and then build back into the final chorus at the whole band playing 100%. Either way would work just fine.
Dynamics are everything. If you play the same way from start to stop without any deviation then that is a bad thing musically. Take the song Mighty to Save. I generally arrange it like this. Band all in from the start. Pull back for the verses, and maybe keys or electric drop out completely. Band cuts out all the way for the 1st chorus. Back in for instrumental. Pull back for verse. back in on 2nd chorus. Drums and vocals only for the bridge. Band full in at 100% for the last chorus. Sounds simple enough right? But you might be amazed at how many players feel like thats too complicated. “You don’t want me to play?” Is a question I’m asked way too often. The thing is that I do want them to play, just not on that bridge, so that when they come back in on the chorus, it means so much more.
What About Duplicate Instruments?
This is pretty common. A church has three musicians. All of them play guitar. Lets assume for the moment that none of then play other instruments. Simple. Guitar #1 is the worship leader playing the main rhythm and going at 60-80%. Guitar #2 fingerpicks the chords playing at 20-30%. Guitar #3 uses a capo and transposes so they are playing the same chords in higher vocings taking care of the high end of the sound spectrum. Guitar #3 could either fingerpick or do rhythm or both, playing at 20-30%.
What if a church only has 2 musicians and both of them are piano players. Easy, one plays the main rhythm, midrange and low end keys, while one plays right hand only lead bits and fills in the sound. Or some other combination that achieves the same thing.
What’s The Point?
The point is that if we take a moment to think, we can arrange ourselves, our playing, our songs, and our band in a way that makes the best use of what we have. We can set things up in a way that shows the restraint in playing or not playing at the right time and the right levels that best serves the song and through that the church.
If you want to play better instantly this Sunday morning. Take a 3×5 note card, tape it to your music stand and right in big letters “Play Less!”.