Weekly Worship Thought – TUNE UP Recap

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Thank you to everyone who attended the TUNE UP gathering on Saturday, August 5, 2017. Thank you to the volunteers and Messiah Lutheran Church for hosting us. Thank you to Larry Bose for capturing our day together with photos. This was our fifth year of TUNE UP and we are so blessed that you came and learned with us.

We had over 70 participants from 19 different churches all around the Houston area join us for this day of training and networking. The gathering began with opening worship and presentations from Brian Hehn, Clayton Faulkner, and Richard Birk. They covered the subject of diversity in church music with each presenting on genre, selecting songs pastorally, and why we should incorporate hymns into band-led worship. Then everyone divided into instrumental/vocal/tech tracks, and conceptual tracks. The instrumental tracks were divided by specific area (worship leader, acoustic/electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, drums, vocals, and sound tech). Conceptual track offerings included sessions on improving your worship band, running an effective rehearsal, increasing congregational singing, and using video technology. During the “Coaching for Bands” session a volunteer church band from Autumn Creek Baptist Church in Houston received feedback and help with their music from a panel of track leaders.

We want you to know about these helpful resources from some of our track leaders:

Thanks for a great event and stay tuned for future event announcements…

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Weekly Worship Thought – Top 5 Tips for Keyboard

The keyboard (both piano and organ varieties) ruled the worship music landscape for a long time. It still does in many places. However, over the last 50 years, the guitar has made itself at home in many churches, replacing keyboards as the lead instrument. Where does that leave the keyboard? Here are my top 5 tips for playing the keyboard in a worship band ensemble:

  1. Keep it simple. Do you notice the trend? The same rule applies to every instrument: less is more. When things get too busy there is no room for the song to develop. This is a chronic problem I notice from keyboard players. I guess having that many notes at your fingertips is tempting. Resist the urge to play busy parts. Occasionally force yourself to play with only one hand. Instead of playing chords all the time, try playing a simple counter-melody.
  2. Share the lead. Keyboardists are used to taking the lead. As a pianist or organist, they are used to setting the tempo, giving the downbeat, and helping the assembly sing together. Some of these skills are counterintuitive when playing as a member of a worship band ensemble. Sometimes the guitar or drums needs to push the song in order for it to sound right. This requires the keyboard to relinquish control over the tempo, feel, and sometimes even the tonal structure of the song.
  3. Explore the tones. If you’re playing a piano, I guess you’re stuck. But if you have an electronic keyboard or synth, don’t just stay on the piano sound. Try everything. There are virtually unlimited amounts of patches online. Make a list of the tones you think could have an application.
  4. Study B3. Every church keyboardist should know how to make the Hammond B3 organ sound good. It is the quintessential sound for many churches, and also the glue that holds together a lot of rock, blues, and jazz music. Get on YouTube and figure out how to make it work. Get a lesson from someone who knows.
  5. Deviate from the page. Rarely will you be able to play exactly what is written out for your keyboard part. If it is fully composed, you will probably have to simplify what you play to some extent (following tip 1 and 2). Or if all you have is a chord chart you can’t just play the changes on whole notes. Don’t be afraid to leave the page and create your own part.

Weekly Worship Thought – Top 5 Tips for Drums

Several years ago I fulfilled the dream of every musician. I bought a drum kit. Because every musician wishes they were as cool as the drummer.

I’ve had the chance to play with some amazing drummers in my musical journey. While I may not be the most proficient on drums, I can suggest a few things that make them sound better. Here are my top 5 tips for playing drums in worship:

  1. Keep it simple. Like I said, this really does apply to every instrument in the ensemble. If everyone dials back what they play there is room for the vocals (and thus the spiritual content of the song) to breathe. For drummers this primarily means simplifying the kick drum patterns. Less kick is more. You’d be surprised how often playing the kick on two and four is all a section of a song needs.
  2. Careful with the fills. Fills are tricky. You can’t leave them out. Fills occupy the transitional spaces of a song. They need to carry a song from section to section. On the other hand, fills can be overdone. A redundant fill is the worst. Too many fills are overkill. I suggest thoughtfully mapping out where fills will be used in a song. Think about how the fill helps with the transition during the song. Is it shifting down into a softer section? Is it heading to the beginning of a building section? The fill can set this up. Please – no tom rolls.
  3. Vary the cymbals. Change which cymbal you hit when you move to a different section of the song. If you’re playing high hat on the verse, don’t continue playing high hat (the same way) on the chorus. Switch to ride or open the high hat. Explore all the different ways that the cymbals can be used.
  4. Hit the drum. To get the best tone out of a drum, you have to hit it. A soft touch produces a wimpy tone. The drum doesn’t even have a chance to sound correct. Much depends on the room and how microphones are being used, which is why you have to…
  5. Use sensitivity. Hitting the drum properly to produce a good tone will cause problems. That is why they lock drummers in fish bowls. You have to know when to sacrifice tone for the greater good. That requires sensitivity (and a dose of humility). A good drummer notices all the sound levels. They know how loud the mains are, how loud the monitors are, and how the drums will need to be complimentary to all.

Weekly Worship Thought – Worship Leader Banter

4b2husoh_m0-zachrie-friesenJared C. Wilson has a post about 10 phrases that worship leaders need to avoid. I do my best to not say these things because they get under my skin when I hear others say them. For the most part they are theologically weak and hype-inducing babble-speak. Especially cringe-worthy is “God showed up.” As if the God of heaven and earth could be controlled or summoned by an incantation.

What is the alternative to babbling like a hype jockey? I am a fan of beginning worship and connecting moments in worship using short, scriptural phrases that center our heart and mind. Here are a few examples of what you could say instead:

  • Sing to the LORD a new song! (Psalm 96:1)
  • I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. (Exodus 15:1)
  • Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. (1 Chronicles 16:9)
  • Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. (1 Chronicles 16:23)
  • Sing the praises of the LORD, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. (Psalm 30:4)
  • Taste and see that the LORD is good. (Psalm 34:8)
  • But as for me, it is good to be near God. (Psalm 73:28)
  • I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. (Psalm 146:2)
  • Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8)

Weekly Worship Thought – Can We Talk?

14237698_10154491382356804_4811150322787948244_nThis week I will begin to lead our worship band through some discussion using the new resource: Can We Talk? Engaging Worship and Culture. This resource is a type of study guide to help churches practically flesh out how and why worship intersects with culture. It uses the Nairobi Statement as a lens to view worship. Although our worship band mainly provides the music for the service, it is helpful to think about worship as a whole and how our music serves it. We will have some discussion about what worship looks like (how is our space used and what can visual arts do?) sounds like (music and the proclamation of God’s word), and how worship engages mind, body, and spirit through ritual practices like prayer, the sacraments, and blessings. I was thrilled to be a contributing author for this resource and highly recommend checking it out.

Weekly Worship Thought – Leading the People’s Song

474910_381360428576470_143418169037365_1103926_791013435_oYour chief role is to lead the people’s song. You can do this from any instrument in the band: drums, bass, keyboard, guitar, or vocalist. Being a leader includes knowing the skills of the people and preparing well. Leading also means being a steward of the beat and breathe of the assembly’s song. Maintaining a good, steady tempo is most essential for effective leadership. Successful musical leadership does not need to be complicated and fancy, but it needs to be steady and take into account that people need to breathe together in order to sing together.

(excerpt adapted from “Musician and Cantor Overview” in Leading Worship Matters: a Sourcebook for Preparing Worship Leaders (Augsburg Fortress, 2013), by Jennifer Baker-Trinity, p. 177.)

2014 TUNE UP Recap

_DSC6733On Saturday, August 9, 2014, the TUNE UP worship band gathering was held. Over 100 worship musicians, sound techs, and video techs assembled on the campus of Faith Lutheran Church in Bellaire, TX (Houston) for a multi-denominational training event. Hosting over 100 participants for the second year in a row, the event was organized by the Worship Excellence Team of the TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod (ELCA) to improve the quality of band-led worship in smaller churches.

The assembled musicians and techs represented 20 congregations including Lutheran, Nazarene, Presbyterian, United Methodist, and Non-Denominational churches. Churches that participated were both from the Houston vicinity and rural parts of Texas.

_DSC6729The schedule included times of worship, instrumental/vocal/tech tracks, and conceptual tracks. A team of track leaders with main speaker DeAndre Johnson (Westbury United Methodist Church) led worship. The instrumental tracks were divided by specific area (worship leader, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, drums, vocals, sound tech, and video tech). Each group gathered together for training and instruction specific to that instrument. Conceptual track offerings included sessions on arranging hymns for worship band, multicultural worship, and renewing the arts in worship. Additionally, a “Coaching for Bands” track was offered in which two church bands received feedback and help with their music from a panel of track leaders.

_DSC6645One attendee commented, “Once again, my team and I have learned and grown through your gathering.” Another responded that the information they received in their track was, “Incredibly useful.”

After a second successful gathering, we will likely offer the event again in the future. Watch the event website for details: TuneUpGathering.org.

FREE Download – My Eucharistic Setting

Eucharistic Setting graphic

For a while I’ve wanted to create my own setting of Eucharistic liturgy music for use in worship. I wanted something that could be used in a contemporary/post-modern service with a guitar or band. I also wanted to use fresh language and imagine some of these well-known texts in a different way.

I ain’t gonna lie – this recording is a little rough. I recorded it at my home studio with a couple of mics. I played and sang all the parts. So there are some exposed edges – which is kind of how I like it anyway.

This music was meant for the church. We have been singing them at Faith Lutheran. Please use them if you think they’ll work in your context. Permission is granted for use in worship. The mp3s are free to download. If you’d like the lead sheets they are available at the PayPal link below for $5.

Eucharistic Setting (2014) – Click here for all mp3s

Let me hear from you if you find these songs useful.

HELP! I NEED SOMEBODY! HELP! NOT JUST ANYBODY! (ideas on recruiting musicians)

20120218-215049.jpgI recently received an email from a church musician who was looking for help. The guitarist in their band recently moved and they don’t have anyone else that can play. Here are a few thoughts I shared with her about how to look for a new guitarist:

  • To start, remember that it is totally possible to do worship without guitars! Don’t let not having 1 instrument be a hang-up. God gives us what we need to worship in our context. So if you’re short a guitar, do your best to make do without. Same with drums, keys, bass guitar, or any instrument. The most important instrument in worship is the assembly’s voice.
  • Even though you don’t think there is a church member that could step up to play guitar, I would want to make sure that is true. Make an announcement that you need a guitarist. You never know! One could be lurking or even visiting for the first time on Sunday. I always say that the best recruitment tool for finding volunteers is the shoulder tap method. Chances are someone in the church may know a great guitarist and could do some recruiting for you.
  • Check with other churches. Call the bigger churches in your area. Chances are they have enough volunteers to support several rotations worth of musicians. Maybe you could borrow one of their guitarists on their off weeks.
  • Grow your own guitarist. Especially consider teenagers that might have an interest. Sponsor them for a couple of guitar lessons with a professional. Let them start sitting in with the band for rehearsal only until they are proficient enough to play and contribute.
  • Advertise it on Craigslist.com. You’ll find lots of bands that post on Craigslist looking for other musicians. If you say you’re a church and describe what you’re looking for you might find someone. Schedule an audition or probationary practice to make sure they are a good fit before committing.

TUNE UP worship band gathering recap

Coaching for Bands 1aOn Saturday, August 10, 2013, the first TUNE UP worship band gathering was held. Over 125 contemporary worship musicians and sound techs assembled on the campus of Faith Lutheran Church in Bellaire, TX (Houston) for a day of learning, growing, and networking. The event was organized by the Worship Excellence Team of the TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod (ELCA) to provide training in the fundamentals of music and worship.

The group that gathered represented 28 congregations including Lutheran, Nazarene, Episcopal, and Non-Denominational churches. Churches from as far away as Austin, TX and Chalmette, LA brought musicians to attend the event.

The schedule included times of worship, instrumental/vocal tracks, and conceptual tracks. A team of track leaders with main speaker Bishop Mike Rinehart led worship. The instrumental tracks were divided by specific instrument (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, drums, vocals, sound tech). Each group gathered together for training and instruction specific to that instrument. Conceptual track offerings included sessions on arranging songs for worship, choosing songs for worship, and principles for worship. Additionally, a “Coaching for Bands” track was offered in which two church bands received feedback and help with their music from a panel of track leaders.

1167394_1402084233343388_1413482869_oOne attendee commented, “It’s nice to attend an event where you get something you can actually use.” Another said, “Thanks for doing this. It helped to refocus me on being a lead worshipper instead of a lead guitarist.”

An overwhelming amount of positive responses suggest that we will likely offer the event again in the future. Watch the event website for details: TuneUpGathering.org.