Does The Worship Leader Have To Sing?

For someone out there, this is going to be a mind blowing, revolutionary thought. So by all means, feel free to sit down for a moment and catch your breath.

For the rest of you, who hopefully get the playful spirit in which I wrote the above sentence, this is a valid conversation for us to have.

In some church traditions, this is a pointless conversation with an obvious answer: of course not. But for many evangelical churches, the question I posed would mean a complete paradigm shift. The worship leader is ALWAYS the person singing. Whether they sing on their own, or if they are also the piano player, guitarist, or even bass player, the worship leader always sings. I’m going to propose that maybe this thinking is why your church’s music ministry is struggling.

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“Let’s Sing That Again”: Vocals Cues In The Worship Service

Last week I was at a Pastor’s Conference where many different worship bands and leaders served leading us in worship before the sessions. Almost all of them fell victim to the trap of overusing vocal cues in their leading. What is a vocal cue? Why would someone use them? How can someone overuse them? Well, let’s talk about it.

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The Electric: Chord Voicing

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 about chord voicing and how they can be used when playing in the church band.

 

THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO PLAY THE G CHORD

A while back I was asked to play electric guitar at the last minute. The church had an electric and an amplifier and that was it. No overdrive pedal, no delay, the amp  had some reverb but the options were pretty much just “on” and “off'”. What’s a guitar player to do?

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The Electric: Pedals

Each Week I’ll try and address different practical aspects of playing the electric guitar in church music.

This week we’ll talk about Effects Pedals.

The electric guitar can be an amazingly versatile tool. You could spend years perfecting the sounds you can get just from messing with the volume and tone knobs and pickup selectors. Then you add pedals to the mix and you basically have a stringed synthesizer at your disposal. I will say it again, the electric guitar is an amazing tool.

What Pedals Do I Need?

Tuner

If you’re not in tune then you’re not in business. I use the Boss TU-2 Pedal because it’s fairly accurate and you get a lot bang for you’re buck.  The TC Polytune, Korg Pitchblack, and Peterson Strobe Tuners are also very popular and you’d probably do ok with any of them. (I also have the Peterson strobe App for my iphone which is a great tool for the guitarist on the go). If you are just starting out you should probably have (in addition to an electric guitar and amp) a tuner, volume pedal and overdrive. That would be a good start, especially since a lot of amps have effects like reverb built in.

Overdrive/Distortion/Fuzz

Something to give you that “edge” or dirty sound for Rhythm parts on up beat songs, lead worship or to give atmosphere to a song in a minor key. I have several all set to different settings depending on what I need. I’ve been building up my pedal collection over many years so if you’re just starting out I would recommend the Fulltone Plimsoul because it’s incredibly versatile or the Ibanez TS9 because 1. EVERYONE, every guitar player you’ve ever heard of seems to have one and use it. 2. You can get them at a good (cheap) price on Craigslist (which is where i got mine).

Compression

Evens things out, keeps the louds from being too loud, and the quiet from being too quiet. I leave my compression on 99% of the time.

Delay

Get that U2 Rhythem or that Coldplay effect. I use a TC Electronics Flashback but any of the Boss series (DD-3, 5, or 7) would do just fine. Note: some of the delays with all the bells and whistles are also the most time consuming to dial in… take that into account before you buy.

Tremolo

Great effect to fill in the sound of a song, give it atmosphere or just sound cool. Several amps I’ve had over the years (VOX AC15, Fender Vibro Champ) have had this effect built in so you may not need the pedal. I use a Fulltone Supa-Trem and love it but a Boss TR-2 would work just fine for a lot less (another great Craigslist option)

Reverb

Again, many amps come with this build in. Reverb is basically that sound you get when you’re in a room so big the echos start to bounce off each other. I usually leave mine on all the time. I just fills the sound in nicely. I use a TC Electronics Hall of Fame. For the money there isn’t much better.

Other options

I don’t use Flanger, chorus, rotary speaker, or phaser but I could see uses for any or all of these pedals in a church band. Just because I don’t use them doesn’t mean you wouldn’t or that they wouldn’t serve the music you play. Did I miss one?

What Pedals Should I Avoid?

For a church band I try to avoid any pedal that is distracting, performance based, not useful or doesn’t fit the sound. A pedal that makes crazy sounds is not only distracting but not practical, and while it may be fun to mess around with, it’s probably a waste of money for what you’re trying to accomplish. If the band I serve with plays CCM, then a heavy distortion is probably not the best call. If you’re playing folk/country hymns do you really need a ‘pulsing filter’ effect?

I have my pedal board set up for versatility (I can do rock, pop, CCM, country, and indie rock) and I’ve gotten rid of pedals that were great but I would never use in a worship setting (Adrennalinn III to name one)

What Makes This Worship and Not Preformance?

That’s up to you. I see my guitar and my pedalboard as a tool to shape a sound that helps people express their love, praise, reverence, adoration, and worship to Jesus through song. I try not to be center of attention, but just another part of the whole. I pick my effects to that end (as talked about above) and use my tools to serve Jesus and His church to the best of my ability. When I’m leading the band on electric or acoustic, I do as little as possible because enough attention is on me as it is. When I’m just part of the band I prefer to hang in the back. It’s starts in the heart, is worked out in practice, and lived in how I play and comport myself.

What’s the Point?

The point as always is to glorify Jesus, serve His church and make good music. These pedals and effects are just tools for that purpose.

 

The Electric

Each Week I’ll try and address different aspects of the electric guitar in church music.

This week we’ll talk about leading with the electric guitar itself.

“Switching from Acoustic Guitar to Electric Guitar can be a fun adventure as a musician and artist. Seek excellence with a servant’s heart, and I’m sure that it will be a blessing to your worship team and church.” — Brian Logue

What’s the Point?

I guess my first question is why? Why are you leading with an electric guitar instead of an acoustic. Most worship leaders I’ve met started out leading on an acoustic guitar. There are a number of reasons. 1. It’s cheaper to buy an acoustic than an electric and all the gear that comes with it. 2. When a church is starting out, acoustic instruments make more sense. 3. The church wouldn’t accept an electric guitar leading before now, and various other issues and reasons.

These are all valid reasons why a worship leader started out on an acoustic guitar. I’m challenged personally that my reason for switching instruments should be equally as valid. Some one said you should “Ask Why 6 Times” before you do a major change, and I think that might be valid here.

1. Why am I switching Instruments, is it for me or to serve others? 2. Does the style of expression in my church fit this change? 3. Does the Style of Expression at my church need to change? 4. Do the musicians in the band have the skill set to make this change?  5. What are the practical realities of this change? (PA/sound system, set up time, etc) 6. What are the positive benefits of this change?

You’re questions and Why’s will probably be different depending on the situation but it’s great to ask them and feel free to chime in with you list of “Why’s”

It’s NOT the Acoustic Guitar

It sounds like I’m stating the obvious right? An electric guitar is plainly not an electric guitar Adam, we all can see that. Yet I’ve seen many a church band leader make this mistake. For whatever reason they want to lead with an electric guitar instead of their acoustic, and  so they pull out their axe, plug it in, and start strumming away. The problem with this that it often sounds awful. The tones, timbres, and range of an electric are different than an acoustic, and if we don’t recognize this fact we’ll be starting off on the wrong foot before practice even begins.

We Need to Know What We’re Doing

Before we lead worship with an electric guitar it’s probably a good idea to do some research. Blogs like this one are a great tool, also reading guitar forums to see if there are any amp settings or effects that might be helpful. A few years back I was playing bass for a worship band and the leader (who was fairly new in the role) showed up one day with his electric and didn’t know why it didn’t sound right when we were practicing. When he asked me we changed his Pick Up selection and changed his effect settings. I didn’t mind helping out but it showed that he hadn’t recognized that he was now playing a different instrument.

Personally, if I were leading by myself with an electric I would be on the clean channel of the amp, using the Neck Pick up with a little bit of reverb an maybe (just maybe) my lightest Overdrive effect.

If I were leading with the band, I would probably have the amp set the same way, but use have both Pick Ups selected, with reverb and using light to medium overdrive on some (not all) of the more up tempo songs.

In both cases a small amount of tremolo might be good for some atmosphere, especially on a slower song that has a darker or more somber feel musically.

Tone

If you switch instruments your tone will change. An acoustic guitar has a different Tone and sonic signature than an electric guitar. There is nothing wrong with that, but in recognizing it we can make adjustments for it. If there is a week with no bass player in the band I generally tell the piano player to ride the “low end” of the keys. If I’m removing certain sounds from the music by switching types of guitars, sometimes I might want to replace them with a 2nd guitar player, or a what range the piano plays in or whatever musical talent you may have a your church to accomplish such a change.

Also, having communication with the sound guys is a big help here. They’ll have to mix things a little different and so having a conversation going on already should be helpful.

The End Goal

The point of all of this is to learn how to better connect people with Jesus. Music is a great tool for us to express things that mere words could never hope to do. If you read my post on “Who the Music is Geared To” you’ll see that one week using an electric set up would work well for connecting with one crowd and I would use the acoustic the next week to connect with a different crowd with the end goal being the same: Jesus.

For further reading, here’s a link to another blogs post with a different take on the same subject: Leading With Electric