“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: Setting Up A Guitar Rig For Worship. Part 3-Effects Pedals

I try and address different aspects of the practical side of playing electric guitar in church music.

This week we’ll talk about setting up your electric rig for the first time or upgrading it to something better, specifically Effects. This is part 3 of a 4 part series. Part 1 can be found HERE, Part 2 can be found HERE. Part 4 can be found HERE.

THIS PART IS A LITTLE QUIRKY

I’m writing these posts in order of what I think it the most important part of getting a good sound in your guitar rig: Amplifier>Effects Pedals>Guitar. Here’s where it gets a little quirky, because while I think that effects pedals do more for the overall tone of a guitar rig, I wouldn’t buy them before buying a guitar. You can’t play guitar if you don’t own one. So I you have a budget to spend on setting up a guitar rig for worship, put the effects pedals at the bottom of the list (just this one time). This is why I encourage people setting up a rig to get an amp with onboard effects (Vox AC15, Fender Hot Rod Deville, etc) so that you save money on the initial set up costs.

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The Electric: Setting up a Guitar Rig for Worship. Part 2- Amplifiers

I try and address different aspects of the practical side of playing electric guitar in church music.

This week we’ll talk about setting up your electric rig for the first time or upgrading it to something better, specifically amplifiers. This is part 2 of a 4 part series. Part 1 can be found HERE. Part 3 can be found HERE. Part 4 can be found HERE

The Most Important Thing

As I said in the last post, I believe the amplifier is the most important part of the guitar rig. I didn’t always think so, I used to think that the most important thing was to get the right guitar. This thinking stemmed from years of acoustic guitar playing where the guitar is everything in getting a good sound. For years I barely gave the amplifier a second thought beyond how loud it could get. Then one day I was in a guitar shop trying out a reverb pedal when it struck me that this pedal will never sound as good in my rig because my amp wasn’t as good. It wasn’t a bad amp, but it just wasn’t able to compete. So I sold some gear and bought a very good mid-priced amp, and switched my long term gear savings plan from a high end guitar to a high end amplifier which I hope to get in a few years. Since that time I have not regretted that decision. A great amp can make so/so guitars and effects sound much better, while a great guitar will be hamstrung by a low quality amp.

Continue reading “The Electric: Setting up a Guitar Rig for Worship. Part 2- Amplifiers”

The Electric: Getting “That Sound”

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

This week we’ll talk about getting “That Sound”

 

Have you ever wondered how your favorite guitarist or band gets “that sound”? Maybe you’ve looked up all their gear on the internet. Then maybe you’ve done the math and realized that their gear would cost you what you make in a 5 year period or more. Can you get “that sound” as a normal guy trying to put a rig together on a budget?

What Do You Want?

If you just bought a Boss Metal Zone distortion but want to do country you may be on the wrong track. Define the sound or sounds you want. What do you like? What does your church band play? Do you play other stuff outside of church? My rig has purposely been set up for country (Buddy Miller, Johnny Cash, Ryan Adams), U2/Coldplay (which means i can do any Christian worship band that rips off those bands cough. cough. Hillsong. cough.), and  rock (Death Cab For Cutie, Arcade Fire, Daniel Lanois) and REM (I rip off Peter Buck a lot)

Do Your Homework

There is no way around it. You have to do the research to know what you want, what musical and technical terms mean, and what gear is right for you.

Let’s say you’re an acoustic guitar player who wants to branch out. You’ve had an old Stratocaster lying around and you’ve decided to play more. Start with something as simple as reading the Wikipedia page on Effects Pedals. Learn the difference.

After you’ve learned what kinds of pedals there are and what they do, you’ll have to figure out what you need. Read up. If you like a certain style of music and you find that a lot of the bands you like use the same pedals (Boss DD-3 Delay or Line 6 DL4 Delay for examples) then that would be a starting place.

Versatility

Let’s say you love August Burns Red and Metallica before the Black album and love to jam at home to those riffs, but the church band you play with wants really bad to sound like David Crowder band. A “metal zone” or similar pedal will pretty much only get you one sound. A Tube Screamer into a tube amp that’s cranked on the “hot” channel with it’s Mids scooped will give you Metallica’s Ride the Lightening, and then if you set the amp to clean it can give you 20 other bands from U2 to Stevie Ray Vaughn. Metallica, U2, SRV all use some version of the Ibanez tube screamer. 1 pedal 3 sounds is a much better value than a single genre pedal.

Most of us are on a budget. Putting a rig together will take time. If you can buy 1 pedal to do the job of two or three then you’ll be better off 9 times out of 10.

Boutique is Not Always Better

Speaking of the Ibanez Tube Screamer. Everyone has one. Brad Paisley, the Edge, SRV. Another pedal that I constantly read about on pro guitar players boards is the Boss DD-3 (or DD-5,6, or 7) or the Boss RV-5 reverb. What I’m saying is that if you read gear forums or blogs or talk to the guy in the Guitar Center trying to upsell you, they’ll for the best sound you really need this [insert more expensive pedal here]. The reality is that a stock TS9 and a lower end TC Electronics Reverb are my go to pedals.

It’s Not Always Pedals.

I was talking to a guy who was asking me how to get the sound and tone from some Hillsong guitar player. I jokingly told him to just rip off the Edge 🙂 But then I looked at the Youtube clip he had sent. The reality was that for all the different pedals he had at his disposal 80% of what was going on was because he was playing through a nice Amp. U2 uses VOX AC-30’s. Coldplay uses Fender Deville’s. Brad Paisley uses Dr. Z. Buddy Miller uses Swart. Metallica used Marshalls and later Messa Boogie’s. The point is that if you have an electric guitar and you have money you’ve saved up you would often be better off getting a good amp than a bunch of effects pedals.

What’s the Point?

It’s worship all about Jesus and not about gear? Yes. but if you look at your pastor’s office you’ll probably find a lot of books (commentaries, maps, histories, dictionaries). Maybe he has a computer with bible software or an ipad with all his notes. These are all tools to preach the gospel and teach the bible. Musical gear are tools make music to praise Jesus, serve His church, and share the gospel or respond to Bible teaching in song. Just as a pastor needs to learn to put a message together, musical servants in the church need to learn how to put a song together. All for the Glory of Jesus.

Who is Your Church Geared To?

Every church is geared towards someone, either intentionally or unintentionally. The Music of the Church is often the biggest indicator of a church’s primary demographic. Is the music of your church contemporary? You are geared towards a 40 year old Soccer Mom. Does your church music sound like a Gaither Homecoming? Then you’re probably geared towards the 60 and over crowd. Does your church hand out ear plugs? Then you probably don’t know who Bill Gaither is and you’re demographic is the young and the restless. Some churches are very intentional about this. Some churches have no idea why they are doing what they are doing, its just the way its always been done.

I prefer to be intentional about things and the music and expression of the church is no exception. Who are we geared towards? Why are we geared towards them? How can we achieve this goal?

Who?

Often this can be answered by who shows up. Things like your church’s median age, marrieds or singles, kids or no kids. You can also be aware of the area you live in: Urban, Suburban, Rural, etc.

Why?

This is something that will probably be set by the Pastors, elders, and leadership of your church. Some churches focus on the unsaved. Some churches focus on who they have now. Some churches focus on the youth, while other churches give great deference to the older members.

Being aware of this as a worship leader will help you in song selection, arrangements, band selection, etc.

How?

If you know who your church is geared to, and you know why, then you have to ask HOW. How do I serve the people God has given us and connect with the people we feel called to reach?

For me, my church has a wide demographic. A fairly even balance of old and young, married and single, and kids a plenty. We want to be geared towards everyone. The vision I’ve taken from my pastor is that we want to minister to everyone. We want to respect and honor the older saints and we want to reach the next generation.

As a worship leader, this can be a bit of tight rope, you can’t make everyone happy so what do you do? The answer I came up with was a ratio and a rotation.

The Ratio: If there are 4 Sundays in a month, 2 are as middle of the road as possible. 1 skews older, and 1 skews younger. This way we minister to the most people and groups of people possible. Middle of the Road will change over time, but currently I would define it as worship leaders like Chris Tomlin, Brett Williams, Brenton Brown and bands like Jars of Clay, Phil Wickham and the music you would hear on your secular top 40 station. Older Tends to lean towards the old Maranatha praise songs, hymns, and a gentler sound with a little bit of Bill Gaither thrown in. Younger would be worship bands like John Mark MacMillan, the worship bands out of Mars Hill Church, the Reality Churches, Sojourn Church Network, and Calvary Fellowship in Seattle, and the music you would hear on your local rock or indie rock station (KEXP in Seattle for me). In addition, the #1 style of music in North Snohomish County (according to radio station ratings) is country music so I try to have 1 Sunday a month lean a bit country/folk (this can fall under Older, Middle, or Younger depending on arrangement) because country music is a very natural expression for the people in this area. In more Urban or Suburban areas the style of expression might well be different but the concept is the same.

The Rotation: I lead 70% of the time, but we have other worship leaders who lead 1-2 Sunday’s a month, plus they often co-lead with me on my Sunday’s. I have a certain style that connects with certain people, these other leaders have different styles that better connect with a different group of people. Variety is the spice of life and when you are trying to serve as wide a demographic as we are, it’s not just important, it’s essential.

The point is that one group isn’t served to the exclusion of another group. We don’t ignore our youth and we don’t put the old people out on the Iceberg. Here’s how a month of Sunday’s might work at Calvary:Arlington

Example 1:

Week-1 (Middle Ground Set, pop/rock. CCM, Modern Hymns)

Week-2 (Older, Country set:Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, He touched Me, Glory, glory, etc)

Week-3 (Middle Ground. Other worship leader. CCM. Chris Tomlin, Phil Wickham, etc)

Week-4 (Younger. Modern Hymns, pop/rock. a little more overdrive on the guitar)

Example 2:

Week-1 (Younger. Folky, Modern Hymns. Channeling bands like Head and the Heart, Noah and the Whale and Damien Jurado)

Week-2 (Middle Ground. CCM, pop/rock)

Week-3 (Older, other worship leader. Maranatha Praise songs. Traditonally arranged Hymns)

Week-4 (Middle Ground. Other leader co-leading with me. Acoustic CCM songs.)’

Week-5 (Fifth Sunday Month, something different, lead by myself with no band, keep it simple and straight forward)

That’s how I do it. How do you identify who you are gearing towards and how to best serve them?

Why These Songs?

Some thoughts I’d had recently on why I pick the songs I pick when I lead worship.

NEW SONGS:

The bible speaks in many places about Singing a New Song to the Lord.

I admit that I don’t like doing new songs. It just easier to go with the songs everyone knows or the songs other band leaders have introduced. But last year I was convicted of my laziness and our need to be constantly reloading our song lists and expressions of worship. So new songs have to happen.

OLD SONGS:

Music has a way of calling people to the Lord or back to the Lord as the case may be. If someone is sneaking into the back row for the 1st time in years than these will be the songs they know. These will be the songs they connected with their relationship to God. So i’m very intentional about having some other tunes in a set list.

REALLY OLD SONGS:

Hymns. Some people love them. Some people hate them. I don’t make a distinction between hymns and choruses other than one has more words than the other. Some Hymns are really good and I pick those and some aren’t and I leave those alone.

Hymns do come in really handy for a few reasons. Older saints tend to connect well with them. They also tend to be a little more open to new styles and expressions of music in worship when it’s done with songs they grew up with because at least the words or tune is familiar. Younger Christians are gravitating to the hymns because they often express the reality of our lives in Christ better than the songs on Christian radio do and the seem to lend themselves well to modern expressions of music.

So I go with what works.

“CONTEMPORARY” SONGS:

Like many in my generation I find little connection with “Christian music”. The music seems to have little connection with my faith, Christian life or preference in music. That’s fine, it’s not geared towards me anyway. But there are people in the church who love that music, they connect to it in a way that I don’t. I want to serve them so sometimes I do songs I don’t care for because it’ll serve the larger community and that is a good thing.

INTENTIONAL VARIETY

In a church with as large as demographic cross section as the one I serve at variety is the key.

I try to be intentional about the songs I pick. I try to be intentional about our “sound” (folk, pop, rock, country, etc) so that a broad range of tastes are covered.

No one type of sound, style or song should have a monopoly.

Jesus should have the only monopoly when it comes to music in the church.