Free Association (Musical) Advice to Lead Worshipers

Posted: May 3, 2007 in Guitars


  1. the musicians need to be set free to worship on their instruments
  2. the instrumental music ought to have worship integrity apart from the words
  3. the musicians need to have a separate worship practice to figure out
    • parts
    • tones
    • to get “tight”
    • dynamics
    • who plays or does not play on what parts
    • and how hard or soft
  4. DO NOT have everybody play full-on at all times for all songs—that would be a bit like always yelling as loud as you can—how weird would that be?
  5. as little frequency overlap or melodic overlap as possible (guitars and keys in different registers)
  6. chords are suggestive not descriptive
  7. the guitarist doesn’t always need to play the root fifth
  8. the bassist
    • can play walking lines or non-roots
    • stand close to the drummer and maybe even stand facing them
    • you two are to be musically married
    • again, the kick bass and the bass guitar ought to feel almost fused—yall should play as a single entity
  9. the keyboardist
    • might consider only playing with the right hand
    • might view their job as primarily laying down ambient noise
    • you are not the bassist (don’t interfere with the lower registers, the bassist has dibs)
    • you are not the drummer (it isn’t your job to keep tempo—your instrument is gifted with endless sustain for a reason)
    • if you must use a piano setting, then make sure it is layered with strings or something
    • consider a Hammond b-3 or some other organ tone normal for praise context
    • again, right hand only!
    • OR think how you can play two or three notes in the right hand rhythmically in a way that interacts with the rhythm section
    • Put your left hand in your pocket
    • Never play the melody
    • Nothing as powerful as space when the rest of the band is carrying the tune
  10. Drums, keys, guitar, bass, singers
    • I keep saying this to my 2 year old boy, Gabe, “Stop! Listen!”
    • Gabe hears that the music is on, hears the tempo, and wails away
    • Everybody’s main musical instrument is their ability to hear the music and feel it out
    • Hear it first, then find it on your instrument
    • There’s more than just tempo!
      • Where does the emphasis lie?
      • What is the kick drum doing?
      • What kind of syncopated stuff is the rhythm guitarist about?
    • “the pocket”
      • The pocket consists of those little rhythmic spaces (find just the right 16th notes that need angry eyebrows painted on ’em) where the dancers want you to drop your notes so that you make it funky
      • If the drum, bass, and guitar are on the same page and actually listening to each other and reacting to each other’s playing, then I assure you, people will not stand still and watch, they will move to the music
  11. Bands ought to move to the music
    • I don’t trust musicians who don’t “dance” with their instrument
  12. The leader
    • If your band is tight, you hardly have to play your instrument (unless you’re a three-piece) except to lead in dynamics or difficult changes
    • Always announce to the band (verbal clues) where you’re going just as though the congregation were present and the VIZ system were broken—both in practice and in event
    • Learn to play and pray at the same time—you can practice this at home—God won’t mind
  13. In practice, the musicians need to JAM (i.e. improvise) for a while on a progression from the set
    • Everybody takes a solo (even the keys, bass, and drummers—maybe even the adventurous singers!)
    • When not soloing in a jam you either support minimally or drop out totally—this teaches the instrumentalists how to work together on dynamics and framing
  14. Then you can bring in the singers to practice their parts
    • the singers need to know that the keys (or horns or anybody else) aren’t going to be playing the melody—that’s their job
    • No two singers singing the same parts (unless you have more than four singers)
    • Vocal vibrato not good on backing vocals – bluegrass nasal is because flat tones sound better harmonized—neglect the nasal but keep the flat on harmonies
    • Don’t have the sound technician mix the vocals all the same level—the leader ought to be louder than the backing vocalists
  15. Physical arrangement on the stage ought to be visually and musically rational
    • Rhythm section (drum, bass) ought to stand together so they play together
  16. The drummer’s monitor mix HAS to have the leader’s instrument or the other percussive rhythm instrument dominant (i.e. leader’s guitar/keys)
  17. Sound technician ought to use a reference recording to set the mix levels—don’t just push all faders to the same number
  18. pre-arranged hand gestures for monitor mix
  1. Josh says:

    don’t forget to instruct everybody to close their eyes at the same point in a song to make it appear that everybody is worshiping.

    and all of this works best when everybody is wearing a kilt.

  2. tdmiller says:

    Yes. Slow down. We’ll get to the coordinated costumes later.

  3. tdmiller says:

    I know this appears like a ridiculously long and idiosyncratic list, but I’m just gathering my thoughts about 1.) musical excellence and 2.) the band learning to view their musical job as not-so-much “merely functional,” but to get to the place of proficiency where they are legitimately giving God glory completely apart from the texts in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

    Perhaps part II would be “Free Association (Spiritual) Advice to Lead Worshipers.”

  4. Sam says:

    Nice treatise on worship. I personally would like the keyboardist to use the other hand to flash spiritual gang signs.

    This probably would be a good thing to present to people you’re leading (once you’ve been doing it for a while) and let everyone talk about it.

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