Normally when I write out a post I try to have it be organized. I have a pretty standard outline that I follow on this blog. But today, instead of one big topic, I’m gonna throw out a few random thoughts about worship leading written in a stream of consciousness. After writing this post mostly I found myself talking about words and lyrics, but there is also a bit about community and active participation. Here goes:
Let’s be honest about two things:
1. Church bands tend to “overplay” and step over each other on a regular basis
2. Church bands are often a hodge podge of who’s available instead of who is needed.
What I’m going to suggest will hopefully unmuddy the waters sonically speaking and give structure to arranging and picking your church’s band for a worship service.
When I put a band together for a Sunday or Wednesday I first look at who is available. It’s all well and good to want a thick analog synth sound on a song but if all your keyboard players are on vacation, you’ll need to rethink your plans. Once I know who is available, I start to fill roles based on my “5 point band”. I admit that I don’t always do it consciously, because I’m so used to doing it. But it’s always there in the background of my mind. So here are the 5 points that I look for to put a band together. I’m going to write them in order of importance.
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.
Proverbs 29:18 tells us that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” In Mark 6:34 Jesus has compassion on the people because “they are like sheep without a shepherd.” Ephesians 4:11 tells us that it was God “who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,” and I feel safe in saying that worship leaders fall somewhere in their too. I could give more examples but the point is that the Bible teaches that godly leadership is a great thing but a lack of leadership is a very bad thing.
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.
Ever tried to learn a song and thought “this is way too high or way too low for me to sing?” Or “there are way too many chord changes for me” or something like that?
Change The Key
I’m always surprised how many worship leaders feel locked into the “original key” or the charts they got from another worship leader or Internet site.
I’m a baritone, the worship leaders at the church I grew up in were all tenors. The chords I got from them and that make up the base of my chord files are all for their range.
All songs have keys. The Majority of church songs are in G, D, E, or C. A song may be written in Bb for a singer with a high range (Phil Wickham) but most of us would need to drop it down to something singable. Also, women and men have different ranges. If you have chords from a guy worship leader and you’re a lady, you may find that a lot of the “standards” don’t work with your voice, that’s ok, just find the key that works for you. I’ve found that a lot of the songs in G that are two high for me work well in F.
Change The Chords
A lot of the older hymns or Christmas carols were written for pianos or organs with chords and chord changes that don’t work well for guitars or guitar music. Don’t be afraid to figure out what works for you and your band.
When we planted Calvary:Arlington we only had two guitar players to start. But our chords and arrangements were often for full bands from our sending church. So for a few of the songs I had to go in and change the chords and arrangements to work for something different, and as we’ve established a fuller band we’ve had to change other songs from simpler arrangements to ones that work for a larger group.
It Won’t Happen Overnight
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Getting your songs set up to work for you and your band will take time but it’s worth it in the long run. As for Christmas songs, I’m about to go start working on them in the summer so I’m not scrambling come the holidays.
The main thing is not to get locked into what worked for someone else. Be Biblical. Be Authentic. Be yourself
The Finding Your Place series was written on my other blog. I’m reposting it here over the next few months. It was one of the main impetus for me starting this blog and I felt it’s content would be worthwhile here.
If you read it before I’m sorry, but I think it’s a helpful series and hopefully useful to those who read it.
I’d be lying if I said that this song wasn’t one of my favorite to sing and lead. I like where the song takes me, both lyrically and musically. I like the song’s versatility in that it can be serious and somber, or loud and ruckus (which is how I prefer it). I’m not alone in my admiration for the hymn as it was voted America’s 2nd favorite hymn (after Amazing Grace) in a 2001 survey by Christianity Today magazine. BBC’s TV show “Songs of Praise” declared it “Britain’s favorite Hymn”.
The song has travelled on an unusual path with authors through at least 5 countries over 2 contents. The Original song O Store Gud (O Great God) was written in Sweden by a 25 year old pastor named Carl Boberg in 1885. It became popular in his native country and in churches in Swedish ex-patriot communities in Europe. It was translated into German in 1907 (where it again became popular) and from German to Russian in 1912. It was in Russia that a British missionary named Stuart Hine heard the song and eventually translated it into English, adding 2 verses of his own original composition in 1931 (published 1949). The song rose to popularity in American in the mid-50’s at the early Billy Graham crusades.
I love the song because it calls Christians to THINK (think, consider, see) about all the God has done and will do in our world and to respond in worship: THEN sings my soul. The singing, the worship comes in response to THINKING about all the great things God has done.
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 using the electric guitar and distortion: How Much is Too Much? or how I learned to Stop Worrying and love my TS9.
This conversation is pointless in certain churches so let’s assume that yours isn’t one of them and it would be ok for you as the electric guitarist to have a “dirty” tone signal of some kind. At that point you would be talking about 3 Basic Catagories: Overdrive, Distortion, and Fuzz.The Wikipedia definition of these three is as follows: The terms “distortion”, “overdrive” and “fuzz” are often used interchangeably, but they have subtle differences in meaning. Overdrive effects are the mildest of the three, producing “warm” overtones at quieter volumes and harsher distortion as gain is increased. A “distortion” effect produces approximately the same amount of distortion at any volume, and its sound alterations are much more pronounced and intense. A fuzzbox (or “fuzz box”) alters an audio signal until it is nearly a square wave and adds complex overtones by way of a frequency multiplier.
How Do I Get These Sounds?
The easiest way to get a overdriven tone is to crank your tube amp and let it “break up”, which is how they did it back in the 60’s before pedals. I have a Vox AC4 that can be turned down from 4watts to 1/4 watts and it’s gets a great ‘dirty’ sound without being over bearing.
There are countless pedals and effects out there that will get you the sound you want or need.
What Do I Use?
The AC boost is really just a “dirty” clean boost and I treat it as such with barely any over drive. I use it for rhythm parts that don’t need much edge but a little bit of punch. I also can use it for the clean boost if I needed to for a lead part.
The TS9 is the middle of the road, and I use it for my straight overdrive sound on Rhythm and some lead parts. (Tip: this pedal is used by EVERYONE from Joe Banamassa to The Edge, it is THE go to pedal. there are better ones out there, but this is a great one to start with.)
The Plimsoul is the most versatile of the three and before I got my TS9, I used the Plimsoul like the TS9, but now that I’ve got one, I have the Plimsoul set for a harder clipping mild distortion sound. I use it for songs that need that punch.
This is up to you. I stay away from distortion pedals in general because I prefer overdrive and fuzz. You know what would best serve the song, and by extension the church. But in general you may find that you get a better fit from just cranking a tube amp than a Boss Metal Zone. Where I would use distortion for church music is if you had your volume down a little or you were using it to add “layers” and atmosphere, especially in a minor key song (Exalt the Lord, More Love, Rise Up Oh Men Of God, etc)
Same as distortion. You know what will fit with your church or youth group or band. I love the sound of a good fuzz pedal. I own a Sovtek Big Muff PI which is a cross between a distortion and fuzz box. I haven’t put it on my board for worship yet, but it is possible it’ll get on there eventually.
Where Do You Use Your Pedals?
It’s up to you. You know what best fits your sound, the songs you are playing, and the church you are serving.
When I’m leading worship with an electric i keep the sound pretty simple, clean tone or mild overdrive, maybe with some reverb and I don’t change much through out the whole set.
When I’m backing up the leader with an electric, I listen for what’s going on, and I tend to use the TS9 or Plimsoul for more up beat songs, the AC boost if i want a “cleaner” sound for the rhythm parts. I use the Plimsoul or eventually the Big Muff to strum Whole Notes or finger pick lightly to “fill in the sound” and give the song “atmosphere” especially on minor chord songs.
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. If you know how to use and utilize guitar effects you’ll have more tools to offer in building the sound of the church’s music.
Consider this a random thoughts post.
Last Sunday I started my “paternity leave” from leading worship at Calvary:Arlington. My son hasn’t arrived yet but I thought it better to schedule myself off early in case he decided to show up early. Last week I played in the band, this week I won’t.
Strange as it may sound, I think that when we lead the church in worship regularly, we can forget how to worship with the church regularly. Can I just be a part of the congregation without hearing the chord changes, and thinking how I would have arranged that song? That is a huge question because how can I lead people in worship I can’t enter in and be lead in worship myself?
And yet, another funny aspect to this whole season for me is that in a real sense I will be leading people in worship: my family.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” –Proverbs 22:6
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” –Ephesians 6:4
“How on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so” — Deuteronomy 4:10
The bible is full of verses and passages calling men to teach their children to worship. By making sure my family is at church regularly. Making sure they see me worshiping Jesus. Making sure Jesus is praised and talked about often in our home. But living an active faith as a witness to my wife and son, I will be leading them in the praise and worship of Jesus Christ.
So I’ll lead worship from the seats tomorrow with my wife by my side and Jesus as our focus.