Why Use Delay

This article is part of The Month Of Delay at the Real World Worship blog. All throughout the month of March we will be looking at different aspects of the delay effect in worship music.


There has been a lot written about “HOW” to use the delay effect, specifically in worship music, but less said about “WHY”.  The how may not help you at all until you know the why. For example, if someone is asked about how to use your delay pedal, and they tell you “How” to set it up for slapback sounds, would that help you if you want to create ambient swells? Or if you are playing a lead part, do you want to know how to set up your delay pedal for the rhythm guitar? These are of course rhetorical questions, but they make the point, so in this post we will look at 4 reasons “Why” you would want to use a delay pedal in your worship service.

1. Rhythmic Delay

This is probably the one you’d call the “U2 delay”, using the repeated notes to for a unique rhythmic pattern that enhances the song. The main problem with Rhythmic delay, as with all effects, is that some will want to limit it to a certain sound or genre. For example: U2 for Delay, Surf Music for Spring Reverb, Rockabilly/Old Country for slap back. Grunge for Chorus. Etc.

This of course sadly limits us from creating new, interesting or functional uses for our effects. Here are a few examples of Rhythmic delay not from U2: “Love, Salvation, The Fear of Death” by Sixpense None The Richer (HERE) and “Dress Us Up” by John Mark McMillian (HERE). Now, someone might try to make a comparison to U2 from a technical or technique point of view. But sonically and structurally, those songs are not U2 songs at all. The same is true for a much more “U2ish” song like “Space Age Love Song” by A Flock of Seagulls. It will share sonic similarities being an 80’s song with many U2 classics, but its something different and good in its own way.

Rhythmic Delay is a great way to give the song something a little extra without stepping over the keyboardist or other guitar player who have the “lead” responsibilities.

Another form of rhythmic delay that I think is often overlooked in worship circles is the Slap Back Delay or Echo. Older songs like Leaning On The Everlasting Arms and I’ll Fly Away  could get a fresh blast of energy from a rhythmic slap back delay put to good use.

The idea is to take the effect to create a rhythm that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to make, either due to talent level or the laws of physics.

Best Type of Delay For Rythmic Delay: Digital or Analog

Best Type of Delay For Slapback Delay: Analog or Tape

2. Lead Booster

This one is exactly like it sounds. What if there’s a lead riff or a part during the bridge where you really want to go big on the song? Do you always have to use a clean boost or stack another overdrive? Your delay pedal can be the perfect thing in moments like these. See John Mark McMillian’s Who Is This. Another song with a totally different intensity and feel is “No One’s Gonna Love You” by Band of Horses. The guitar part on that wouldn’t stand out at all if the band wasn’t using the delay effect to make it catch your ear.

For a great example of Lead Booster and Rhytmic Delay working together is the song “Coming Back Again” by Kings of Leon.

Best Type Of Delay For Lead Boost: Digital, Analog or Tape

3. Atmosphere

This can mean whatever you want it to mean. We are Christians. Worshiping Jesus who conquered death and is now exalted at the right hand of God the Father in Heaven who will someday come back to Earth as a conquering King. So it makes sense that a lot of modern worship music employs the delay effect for an etherial/heavenly sound.

Sometimes, the realities of our songs and prayers are darker. These are “save me from my enemies” types of Psalms we find in the Bible. I’ve used the Echroec or other tape delay or analog delay to give a dark texture to songs like “Our Great God” or On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand (we do that one in a minor key).

The other use of delay for atmosphere is with other effects. Mix in some reverb or modulation like Tremolo with your delay and you can great a background soundscape that’ll fill in the band’s sound like a keyboardist playing a synth pad, but without the bad early 90’s feel.

Andy Othling has some great thoughts on this HERE

Best Type of Delay For Atmosphere: Tape, although this is just my opinion, and others will work as well.

4. To Fill In The Spaces

This one is the easiest. Turn your mix knob down a bit and just let the delay effect fill in and fill out your sound a bit. The delay should almost be an after thought like a mild reverb.

The song “Comeback Story” by Kings of Leon and “Youth” by the band Daughter are both good examples of this. The delay is there but it’s not at the for front. I do a finger picking version of the song “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and I use delay when leading with an electric guitar for just his reason: to fill in the spaces of my tone.

Best Type of Delay For Filling In The Spaces: Any, the key is to have a way to blend the delay down like a mix knob.

4 thoughts on “Why Use Delay

  1. Pingback: Gear Review: Kilobyte Delay | Real World Worship Leading

  2. Pingback: TAPE DELAY | Real World Worship Leading

  3. Pingback: Which Delay and Does It Matter? | Real World Worship Leading

  4. Pingback: Gear Thoughts: Line 6 DL4 | Real World Worship Leading

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