In this series I try and address different aspects of the practical side of playing electric guitar in church music. This week we’ll talk getting ready to play on Sunday, especially if you don’t know the set list.
I’m playing electric guitar in the band this Sunday. I don’t know the set list, or anything other than that I’m supposed to show up. How do you get ready for something like that?
It’s not an idea situation but it is what it is, and a lot of churches do it that way and it works fine for them. So if you’ve new to a worship band that operates on short notice and you don’t get the set until the morning of, or if you’ve been doing it this way for a while but are still struggling with how to do it well, here’s some thoughts:
HAVE YOUR GEAR READY
Strings: I may not know what the set list is, but I do know whether or not my guitar needs new strings. As a rule, unless it’s an emergency I don’t change my strings the day before. They need time to stretch and so i’ll actually wait til after Sunday morning. I’d rather have strings that sound a little dull then strings that won’t stay in tune.
Cables: Over time things short out and breakdown. The worst thing in the world is showing up on Sunday morning only to realize that you have a bad cable. Knowing before (if possible) will save you a world of hurt. I’m speaking from experience on this one.
Settings: Knobs get moved. That’s what they’re designed to do. So whether it happened from the stage to your car last Sunday, or the kids who shouldn’t be on the stage messing with your gear, you need to check your settings. Sometimes it’s a simple as redialing. Sometimes I need to change things up. About half of my pedals stay pretty constant in their settings, and the other half get reset almost weekly depending on what I need out of them.
Transport: It’s just a good practice to have your gear ready to go. Sunday mornings are hard enough. Don’t for a moment think that there isn’t spiritual warfare happening to keep you from church. Don’t make it harder on yourself by not knowing where your keys or your reverb pedal are. Also, you’ll be less likely to forget stuff like your amp (yup, that was me).
KNOW YOUR WORSHIP LEADER
I may not know the set list, but I do know who’s leading the band. Each one of our band leaders is different and I have a general idea going in what sounds and vibe they are looking for.
This also goes hand in hand with dialing in your settings. My delay pedal will go from Hillsong to Slapback to Ambient to Off depending on who’s leading the band. One leader may want a more driving overdrive, and another wants all clean tone. Knowing the people you play with will help you when you don’t know the songs your gonna play.
JUST PLAY WHAT YOU KNOW
I mean this for your practice, not Sunday Morning. Several years ago I played at a church where the worship leader didn’t officially ask you to play until Friday morning with a set list friday night. The thing was, I worked long hours on both Friday & Saturday so I rarely had time to practice once I had the set list. Knowing this, on a the day I did have time I would are general things. Songs that were popular in the church at that moment. Riffs to songs we had been doing a lot lately. General sounds and settings that I thought would fit at some point.
Doing this, I could show up on a Sunday morning a generally find my place in the song.
COME READY TO LISTEN
The downside to just playing what you know is that it may not be what the band leader wants. Never mind that it’s short notice. They’ve got a sound they want, and maybe what I was working on earlier in the week is just not “it”. I need to come ready to listen:
To the Leader: If the band leader asks us not to play until the 2nd verse, am I going to listen or am I gonna just start playing whenever I feel like it? Even if the drummer or bass come in early, what are you going to do? If the band leader asks for no string bending, or wants a lot of string bending, am I going to try and accommodate them or am I going to act like I know best?
To the Band: What’s going on? I’ve talked a lot about this topic before, and as much as I wish we were all mature enough players to know our roles, communicate and play with submission, it’s just not always the case. Is the lead instrument the electric guitar or the piano or the 2nd acoustic guitar? Is the song sounding flat? Is it too full and I need to step back? Listening more than doing in rehearsal will take your far.
Listening doesn’t mean you can’t talk. I’ve had conversations with the piano about who’s doing what. I will talk to the leader if they aren’t being clear about what they want, and recently I had to talk to a bass player who was acting like the lead guitarist. Listening doesn’t mean that you don’t speak up, it just means that it’s the last and not the first thing that you do.
This is just good advice. In general, for whatever reason, church players tend to over play. This is across the board. Playing Less is something we all need to remember, but never more so then when we are finding out our set list at the last minute. If I haven’t practiced a song before hand, and I’m doing this with 5-7 songs, its just plain smart to play less.
Play 2 notes instead of 4. Drop out on the verses. etc.
In the world of the last minute, simple is best.
Being the 1st Church of the Last Minute is not a set up that will lead to long term sanity. But if that’s where you find yourself, these tips will hopefully make the journey a little easier.