Behind the Music: How Great Thou Art

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.

The Electric: Overdrive, Distortion, and Noise

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?

Amplifier

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.

Pedals

There are countless pedals and effects out there that will get you the sound you want or need.

What Do I Use?

Overdrive

Generally speaking for church bands this is the one I would go with. It’s warmer, cleaner, and clearer. I have 3 on my board: a Xotic AC Booster, a Ibanez TS9, and a Fulltone Plimsoul.

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.

Distortion

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)

Fuzz

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.

Leading From The Seats

 

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.

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

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.